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Knights try to bounce back against up-and-down Panthers

Mar 17, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault (81) talks to Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) during the third period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights will try to rebound from what head coach Bruce Cassidy called their most disappointing game of the season when they host the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Vegas leads the Pacific Division with 56 points thanks in part to a 13-2-0 start to the season. But the Golden Knights have won just 14 of their 27 games since (14-11-2) and suddenly find themselves in a dogfight with the Los Angeles Kings and the Seattle Kraken for first place.

Vegas has had four days and two practices to try and regroup after an ugly 5-1 home loss to the Kings on Saturday night. All-Star goalie Logan Thompson was pulled after two periods after yielding three goals on 19 shots. Jonathan Marchessault scored his 15th goal of the season with 2:18 remaining to avoid the shutout.

The Golden Knights finished with only 20 shots on goal, including just four in the second period. Kevin Fiala scored a hat trick for the Kings.

“It was probably the most disappointing game of the year for us when I look at our competitiveness from top to bottom,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy was especially upset with his team’s effort around the net and promised to put his team through “combat” drills in the practices heading into Thursday’s game.

“Once we fell behind, I don’t think we had the bite in us to get back in the game,” Cassidy said. “The will. The compete. Whatever adjective you want to use.”

“I still like the way we’re playing,” captain Mark Stone said. “This was just one of our not-so-great performances this season, but you’re going to have those, right? You just can’t let them repeat themselves. The good teams, they have one stinker and then they get back on the saddle and they get it going.”

Vegas will try to rebound against a Florida team that has had roller-coaster start to the season. The Panthers got back to the .500 mark (19-19-4, 42 points) with a 5-4 victory over defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado on Tuesday in Denver.

Florida blew a 4-1 third-period lead in the win but the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners still pulled out the victory thanks to Matthew Tkachuk’s power-play goal with 3:30 remaining in regulation. Tkachuk tried to jam three shots past goaltender Alexandar Georgiev and was credited with the game-winner when Colorado defenseman Cale Makar tried to clear the crease, but instead sent the puck into the net off the skate of Avalanche forward Evan Rodrigues.

“Hopefully this win, the way it happened, can give us full confidence that the second half (of the season) is going to be different for us,” Tkachuk said.

Tkachuk had two goals in the contest to extend his point streak to four games (five goals, three assists). He became the third Panther in history to hit the 50-point mark (22 goals, 29 assists) in 39 or fewer games, joining Pavel Bure (34 games in 1999-00) and Jonathan Huberdeau, who did it in 37 games last season and in 38 games in 2019-20.

“Wouldn’t expect it from anyone else,” forward Sam Bennett said of Tkachuk’s game-winner. “He’s scored big goals for us all year, and there’s another one.”

Florida has won three of its last four games and has closed to within six points of Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“That was a big win for us,” Bennett said. “It was an emotional game, letting them back in it in the third. We managed to find a way to win, and that’s all that matters.”

–Field Level Media