LAS VEGAS — The first period did not resemble a muddy slog between two teams who’ve been off for a week or more. It looked like a battle for hockey’s holy grail. The usual characters did their usual things as Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made several spectacular saves. The Golden Knights forecheck created a handful of neutral zone turnovers and rush chances. And both teams clanged the post.
The Golden Knights scored a pair of third period goals as Zach Whitecloud finished a hustling shift by Jack Eichel, and Mark Stone intercepted a breakout pass and shoveled a wrister over Bobrovsky’s glove. The Golden Knights seized Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final 5-2 at T-Mobile Arena Saturday.
Reilly Smith scored the empty netter and five different players scored goals.
One down, three more to go.
The second period was played primarily in the Florida zone, but a late blast by Anthony Duclair again squared the game. However, the period began with a diving paddle save by Adin Hill but ended with Duclair’s (4) blast off an offensive zone faceoff. The goal tied the game 2-2 with 10 seconds remaining in the second period.
Midway through the second period, Shea Theodore flexed his offensive skills. After extended offensive zone time begun by the Golden Knights’ fourth line, the second line converted. Theodore (1) danced around Anthony Duclair at the blue line like Patrick Swayze at a summer resort. He stepped forward from the blue line into acres of open space and lasered a wrister through traffic and through Bobrovsky.
The first period was also a seesaw of emotions and scoring chances. Through the first 40 minutes, the scoring chance ratio was 51-49% for the Panthers, but the high-danger chances were 56% for the Golden Knights. Stats, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Panthers also hit four posts in the first 40 minutes as they tried to shave the edges around 6-foot-5 goalie Adin Hill.
Midway through the first period, Florida turned the tide with a shorthanded goal. The Golden Knights’ special teams have been a hindrance throughout the season, but especially in the playoffs. Reilly Smith’s turnover on the mid-wall sprang Eric Staal on a short-handed rush. Staal (2) didn’t complete the wrap-around attempt, but the puck caromed off Hill into the net.
Later in the first period, the Golden Knights’ power play atoned for its earlier mistake. Chandler Stephenson’s nifty misdirection pass from behind the net fooled everyone. Jonathan Marchessault slammed the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky.
The shot totals weren’t enormous in the first 20 minutes. The Golden Knights won the shot battle only 9-7, but continued their shot-blocking ways and negated nine Florida shots.
The third period belonged to the Knights. From the scraps near the Florida net to the scoreboard, the Golden Knights third period pushed them clear of the upstart Panthers, who upset the top three teams in the Eastern Conference to earn their Cup Final berth.
Eichel set up the game-winning goal when he tried to set up Ivan Barbashev cutting to the net. Barbashev’s shot was blocked, but Eichel raced across the ice to the loose puck to extend the play. Zach Whitecloud (2) beat Bobrovsky with a long wrister for the 3-2 lead.
Later in the third period, Stone nearly had a goal, but his deflection was just wide.
Moments later, Stone intercepted a breakout pass and put the game away (7). 4-2.
In the final minutes, teams sent messages back and forth. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart earned minor penalties and 10-minute misconduct penalties. Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson also earned a two and 10.
Adin Hill finished with 30 saves on 32 shots.