On Saturday night, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 in Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Although it was 2-2 after two periods, Vegas tallied three goals in the third to go up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The Golden Knights are up 1-0 for the second time in their Stanley Cup Final history, beating the Washington Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 in 2018. Unfortunately, the team lost the next four games, allowing the Capitals to skate with the Stanley Cup on T-Mobile Arena ice after Game 5.
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Even though those moments have passed, Vegas appears to be a team on a mission this year, looking to fix previous wrongs. After inching closer on Saturday night, we look at a few takeaways from their Game 1 win in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas Golden Knights keep winning without Jack Eichel’s scoring
Golden Knights superstar Jack Eichel has 20 points in 18 games and is just four points away from becoming the leading scorer in the playoffs. Surprisingly, the former second-overall pick has not scored a goal since Game 5 of the second round on May 12.
After another two assists in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, he’s collected seven helpers since his last lamp lighter, finding other ways to contribute to wins. Although they don’t hand out awards for performances in each series, Eichel was the best Golden Knights player in the Western Conference Final, putting in significant effort at both ends of the ice every night.
Statistically, Vegas is 5-0 when Eichel collects two or more points in a game and are 10-2 when he gets at least one point. Surprisingly, when he is pointless (six games), the Golden Knights are 3-3. Shockingly, this is his first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he is now just three wins away from a championship and a potential Conn Smythe Trophy victory as MVP.
Adin Hill outduels Sergei Bobrovsky with clutch saves
At the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Adin Hill and Sergei Bobrovsky sat on the bench, serving as backup goalies. Eventually, injuries (Vegas) and poor play (Florida) forced these netminders back into action, with both taking the ball and never looking back.
At the start of the series, both goalies found themselves at the center of attention, thanks to outstanding performances to get their teams to the Stanley Cup Final. Although there was more talk about Bobrovsky, Hill silenced the critics with a magnificent performance in Game 1.
Whether he was robbing Nick Cousins with the paddle of his stick (second period) or preserving a two-goal lead by denying Sam Reinhart on a breakaway (third period), Hill should have been more than just the third star of the game. Ultimately, he was the main reason the Golden Knights walked away with a convincing 5-2 win, showing the hockey world that he could play with the game’s very best and outperform them on the game’s biggest stage.
Panthers must overcome history, break through the proverbial glass ceiling
The last time the Panthers were in the Stanley Cup Final, in 1996, the Colorado Avalanche swept them in four games. Fast forward to 2023, Florida is back in the same position as they were 27 years ago, looking for their first win in the Final.
Interestingly, the Panthers are also still looking to beat the Golden Knights for the first time, now with a 0-5-1 record against the team who came into existence in 2018. Although it is safe to argue that this year’s team is more talented than the 1996 club, it was noticeable after the first game that they will need more than some playoff magic to beat Vegas four times in this series.
Considering Bobrovsky had an off night, and Matthew Tkachuk was hardly noticeable, the Panthers must be experiencing déjà vu, unable to overcome the mental hurdle of getting that exclusive first win. Even though this series is far from over, thinking about past failures could be one of the things that hold this team back from succeeding.
Rough, physical play will lead to interesting special teams battles
After falling behind in the third period, the Panthers took a boatload of penalties to end the game shorthanded. Statistically, the Golden Knights scored two powerplay goals on seven opportunities, signaling that if this thread continues, it could be a quick and easy series for Vegas to win.
Unfortunately, Florida went 0-for-3 on the man advantage, but Vegas only had 18 penalty minutes, while the Panthers finished the night with 46. Furthermore, two Panthers’ players padded those numbers with ten-minute misconducts. Still, it was unnecessary if everyone remained focused on the game instead of engaging in physical play between whistles.
Despite both teams deploying two of the worse penalty-killing units in Stanley Cup Final history, the Golden Knights got burnt in the previous series when taking penalties. Ultimately, they adjusted their style of play and walked away with a win, which means the Panthers can’t rely on Vegas stepping over the line to capitalize on their mistakes.
Realistically, both teams should come into Game 2 with cooler heads. However, if Florida can’t play within the rules, their 71.2% penalty-killing numbers will only worsen, potentially costing them the series before it gets going.