SUNRISE, FLA — It could be the final rat toss at FLA Live Arena this season. It might be the penultimate game of the 2022-23 NHL season. The Stanley Cup will be at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday. The Vegas Golden Knights must win one more, and they will fulfill a promise that a bunch of misfits from across the league made six years ago.
But it wasn’t without some tense third-period moments courtesy of the Florida Panthers. The “cardiac cats” again rose from the mat after being pounded for much of the game. The Golden Knights thoroughly suffocated Florida in the second period, leaving them deflated and lifeless, but Florida roared in the third period.
However, they never not the tying goal, and the Vegas Golden Knights won Game 4, 3-2 Saturday.
The Golden Knights have a 3-1 series lead and a chance at Stanley Cup glory Tuesday in Game 5. Just one more win, and they will drink from the Stanley Cup and walk together forever.
The Florida Panthers kicked out of a sure pinfall in Game 3. Facing an impossible 3-0 series deficit, they scored late and upped their OT record to 7-0 with a shocking comeback win.
The Panthers tried to kick out again in Game 4. Being dominated and trailing 3-0 late in the second, Florida scored two unanswered goals. Late in the second period, Brandon Montour (8) was given credit after his fluttering shot made two 45-degree turns after hitting a pair of Golden Knights and settling behind goalie Adin Hill.
Florida scored four minutes into the third period to bring a previously lifeless home crowd back to life, too. Aleksander Barkov snapped a short-side wrister past Hill to close the previously 3-0 lead to 3-2.
That was all Florida got.
With the heightening emotions of the season’s final few games hurling the teams toward their fateful conclusion, the Golden Knights scored first.
First goals have not been a common theme for the VGK, but two minutes into the first period, several Florida defenders converged on Zach Whitelcoud, who tapped a pass to Chandler Stephenson, rushing through the neutral zone. Stephenson (9) had a clean breakaway and buried it five-hole through Sergei Bobrovsky.
Perhaps the most telling statistical insight from the first period was the shot attempts and scoring chances. The Florida Panthers took 58.5% of the shot attempts, but the Golden Knights had 56% of the scoring chances.
Keeping their season-long strategy, the Golden Knights blocked 10 shots in the first period.
In the second period, the Golden Knights went for the kill. They scored two goals and allowed just one shot in the first 10 minutes.
Stephenson was angling for the natural hat trick in the second. Captain Mark Stone’s ferocious forecheck and backcheck were rewarded earlier in the second. He set up Stephenson (10) for a perfect one-timer from the slot.
Stephenson didn’t get the natural hat trick, but teammate William Karlsson staked the Golden Knights a 3-0 lead midway through the period. Karlsson (11) buried Nic Hague’s rebound.
The Golden Knights allowed a few more shots late in the period but outshot Florida 12-7 in the middle period and blocked eight more shots.
If it were a boxing match, Florida would have staggered to its corner, cut and bruised.
However, Jack Eichel was felled by Jonathan Marchessault’s high wrist shot in the final minute of the second period. The shot hit Eichel on the side of the face. He immediately went to the room but returned early in the third period.
Matthew Tkachuk had three shots on goal but was not a factor in the first 40 minutes. He didn’t play much in the third period, missing most of the period, but returned for the final few minutes.
Florida also had a power play for the final 17 seconds after Alex Pietrangelo was called for delay of game. Hill made the final stop as fights broke out. Hill was in the middle of it, too. He was throwing fists with several players.