The Vegas Golden Knights contained their pest problem in Game 1. Matthew Tkachuk was held scoreless, and his only contributions on the score sheet were a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the third period.
Tkachuk will forever live in infamy among Carolina Hurricanes fans. He scored three game-winning goals during the Florida Panthers Eastern Conference Final sweep, including a pair of OT winners. Without Tkachuk, Carolina might have won the series. Tkachuk similarly tortured the Toronto Maple Leafs and carried his team against the Boston Bruins in Round One.
Not bad for a player who essentially forced his way out of Calgary by refusing contract talks last summer. So, the Calgary Flames traded him to Florida.
While Calgary missed the playoffs, Tkachuk is the man in the Sunshine State. Until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, anyway.
The Golden Knights followed their script on Saturday and largely kept Tkachuk away from the net. He set up Nick Cousins on that fateful Adin Hill save early in the second period, and he nearly took advantage of one defensive lapse when he was left alone near the net.
It was also Tkachuk who made the fateful giveaway in the third period. Mark Stone knocked down his clearing pass and quickly snapped it into the net.
Otherwise, the Game 1 battle between Florida’s hottest player ended in a Golden Knights victory and a lot of Nic Hague laughter. The Golden Knights delivered a solid 5-2 win at T-Mobile Arena.
Tkachuk tried to goad Hague into confrontations. Hague was willing to scrap but not willing to take a penalty. Tkachuk delivered little whacks while linesmen separated him from Hague, once even grazing Hague’s helmet with his stick during a scrum, but Hague didn’t bite.
It was all or nothing for Hague. Fight or skate away. During a second-period melee, one of the linesmen sternly gestured for Hague to leave the area as the linesman held Tkachuk, keeping the pair apart.
Hague backed up a few feet and stood erect, not moving or shuffling his feet.
Linesmen kept Tkachuk from Hague several times in Game 1, often to laughter from the Golden Knights defenseman. He knew the game, and he wasn’t taking the bait.
The Panthers’ shot chart confirms the VHN series analysis. This is a good matchup for the Golden Knights because their big defensemen would keep Florida to the outside.
The shot chart from NaturalStatTrick.com shows the Panthers trying to walk it to the net from along the goal line with only marginal success. Those tight-angle shots might count as high-danger, but they’re usually stoppable.
Also, according to the stats site, Tkachuk had only three attempted shots at 5v5, one scoring chance, and one high-danger scoring chance. That’s a win for Golden Knights.
Beating Sergei Bobrovsky:
The Florida Panthers goalie has been unbeatable. Nearly untouchable since taking over the net early in Round One. The Panthers had won 11 12 games since falling behind the Boston Bruins 3-1 in the Round One series.
He was not untouchable in the regular season, and the $10 million goalie was essentially benched down the stretch for third-goalie Alex Lyon. However, “Bob” flashed his former Vezina Trophy-winning form in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights had a plan. It began with goalie coach and former NHL goalie Sean Burke delivering a presentation to the players. We’re unsure if it was a PowerPoint entitled “How to Beat Bobrovsky,” but it did the job.
“Sean Burke did a presentation (Saturday morning). He does it more in-depth than me. The bottom half of the net, moving laterally, is tough,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You’ve got to beat him upstairs when he’s moving. With traffic at the net, I don’t want to say small because that’s not fair, but he crouches a little more to find pucks. That was (Shea) Theodore’s goal.
At the end of the day, he’s been great in the playoffs. We know what we’re up against. But we’ve also scored. We’ve scored a lot of goals to win.”
The Golden Knights also found a few things on tape regarding zone entries. It seems they came loaded for bear … or Panthers.