Zach Whitecloud scored from long range with just over 13 minutes to go after Adin Hill made arguably the best save of the playoffs, and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Saturday night in the Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Whitecloud’s goal put Las Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty followed, and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. That combination, plus Hill’s 33 saves, gave Vegas the series lead after a spirited opening game between Sun Belt teams that lost little time to familiarize themselves with the big hits during the game and much shoving and shoving afterwards. to the whistle
Original Knights players Jonathan Marchessault and Shea Theodore also scored on Florida’s two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
The second game is Monday in Las Vegas.
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The Panthers stepped up the physical game late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fight with 4:24 left left Florida’s bench very short.
But the result was determined long before that.
After falling behind on an Eric Staal goal with a short hand that took the lives of a crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth victory back in these playoffs. Marchessault, known since he arrived in Las Vegas when the franchise began for scoring big goals, responded before the end of the first period and Theodore scored his first since March 7 in the second.
In the middle, Hill made a desperate save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one made by Washington’s Braden Holtby against Las Vegas, in the same vein, five years ago.
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Allowing an equalizing goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second didn’t slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with Bobrovsky blocked and unable to see, fired up the fans once again.
The Golden Knights are in the finals for the second time in six years of existence, five years after reaching their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games. Six players remain from that original team.
The Panthers have returned to play for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida was swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer in these playoffs, was born.
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It is the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup Final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and only the third time since the turn of the century that the final has featured two teams that have never won the league championship.