SUNRISE, Fla. – Needing to win Game 3 Thursday night to make the Stanley Cup Final a series, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice said his team has been “more physical than it needs to be” but argued physicality and discipline are separate subjects.
The Panthers’ lack of discipline while losing the final’s first two games to the Vegas Golden Knights by an aggregate score of 12-4 is embodied by Florida’s best player, Matthew Tkachuk, who has more penalty minutes (36) than time on ice (34:34).
“I think the Boston series was more physical than this series,” Maurice said, referring to the Panthers’ first-round win. “I think we’ve made this series more physical than it needs to be. We had 22 hits in the first period in Game 2. Prorate that out, and you don’t need 66 hits in a game. As a matter of fact, there’s an energy cost to that. We have hitters … but I don’t necessarily need Carter Verhaeghe to have five.
“I don’t think physicality and discipline have necessarily anything to do with each other. Discipline is a touchy subject right now for us, and we’ll just leave it at that.”
But Panthers winger Anthony Duclair went a little further, telling reporters Thursday morning: “We just need to be a little smarter in certain situations. Last thing we want to do is keep getting penalties and putting those guys on the power play. Obviously, they’ve got tons of skill, tons of talent and can make us pay. We’re going to see a little smarter hockey tonight out of us.”
The Panthers will get a physical and disciplined player back Thursday night in Radko Gudas. Maurice said his key defenceman will play after leaving Game 2 when crushed on a reverse-hit by Ivan Barbashev.
Marchessault vs. Lomberg in a war of words
Mic’d up for Game 2 lopsided victory, Jonathan Marchessault provided us with a wonderful little chirping moment.
Mixing it up with Florida third-liner Ryan Lomberg (generously listed at five-foot-nine), the Conn Smythe contender (equally generously listed at five-foot-nine) opts not to engage too long after a whistle.
“You’re not worth it, little man,” the happy-go-lucky Marchessault pipes at Lomberg.
“It is what it is. It’s a playoff series,” Lomberg said. “It’s not Connor McDavid or anything like that. It’s just a matchup in the series.”
Is Marchessault yapping a lot out there?
“I haven’t heard much,” Lomberg replied. “It’s usually when I’m skating the other way, anyways.”
Lomberg’s comments were relayed to Marchessault.
“That’s fine. I would never go with the guy. He’s tough, right? He’s pretty tough. I would never go with the guy. He’s the kind of guy that just wants to get me out of my game, and I cannot answer it, really,” Marchessault said.
Lomberg has racked up 15 fights in his NHL career. Marchessault has been credited with two, according to HockeyFights.com.
Despite being mic’d up, Marchessault seems surprised the clip of his chirp made it onto NHL platforms.
“Well, they want to get things spiced up, I guess. Because for me, I would not want it released,” Marchessault said.
“But, for me, it doesn’t matter what he says. I’m here to win some hockey games.”
So far, so good.
Tkachuk, probably the most valuable player in the playoffs through three rounds, has been held to a single garbage-time point, a goal late in Game 2. He has taken three minor penalties and three 10-minute misconducts through two games.
“I’d say I’ve just got to try to have the puck more,” Tkachuk said when asked for a self-assessment. “I have to take more pucks to the net, shoot more than I have. Their D do a good job of protecting the front of the net, but I think there’s more room around it just because they’re so close to it.
“At the end of the day, this series is where it’s at right now because we didn’t necessarily have the best two games to start over there. But coming back home, I think it’s a breath of fresh air for every one of us to take care of home ice like we have all playoffs and make this a series. But you can’t make it a series unless you win this game tonight.”
Size (still) matters
Nicolas Hague hovers at six-foot-six. Brayden McNabb stands six-foot-four. Alex Pietrangelo is a sturdy six-foot-three. Alec Martinez is the tiniest among all the Golden Knights’ starting six-footers, at six-foot-one. Shea Theodore (six-foot-two) is the lightest at 197 pounds.
Sure, the smaller, swift defenceman may be trending more leaguewide. But there is no disputing that Vegas’s length on the back end is contributing to its success.
Big D-men — if they can play, of course — can make a rotating cast of goaltenders look sharp because they clear net-fronts for tips, limit rebound chances and generally make it difficult for the opposition to fight its way to the slot.
They’re giving the Panthers fits, aiding Adin Hill (six-foot-foot himself) in keeping Florida’s shooters to two goals per game in the final.
“Size is a big thing, right? Because you can withstand the forecheck, the physical play — which we’ve done to this point,” Pietrangelo said. “But I think what makes our group special is that we can all move the puck and make plays out of the D-zone. And we can skate, right?
“So, if you look at us not only in the D zone but in the offensive zone. (Zach Whitecloud) is making a great play on (Game 1’s winning) goal. Theo’s goal is a wonderful play to watch, that’s for sure. But collectively as a group, we can all get on the offence. We can skate, and we can withstand that physical play.
“So, the combination of size and skating is what makes us effective at both ends of the ice.”
Misfit Culture Club
The Statue of Liberty knockoff that looms over Las Vegas Boulevard is perfect on two counts. It’s the iconic sentinel fronting the New York–New York Hotel and Casino, but also a sort of mission statement or reminder for how the Vegas Golden Knights were constructed.
On their way to T-Mobile Arena next door, countless fans over the last six years have passed the statue, whose famous inscription begins: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”
And thus, the Golden Knights were originally built, with castoffs from other National Hockey League teams yearning for something better. Six original Knights are still playing for Vegas, and the “misfits” culture that players embraced when they were cast off by other teams in the 2017 expansion draft still permeates the organization.
Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy believes that culture has helped more recent castoffs, such as Brett Howden and Michael Amadio, fit so seamlessly into the Golden Knights and have made significant contributions during the Stanley Cup run.
“We’re built that way, right?” Cassidy observed. “Amadio and Howden have come from that background. They feel comfortable in the room. They’re not walking in and going: ‘Geez, these guys were drafted developed, I’m an outsider.’ They walk into a room where … there’s a lot of guys in there that have been through this. So, they have that togetherness or bond of, you know, maybe being not wanted the first time around.”
Howden, acquired last summer from the New York Rangers for a fourth-round pick, scored twice in the Knights’ 7-2 win Monday in Game 2. Amadio, claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, had a goal and assist.
Howden is with his third NHL organization, Amadio his fourth, and each player has nine points in the playoffs. Cassidy is using Howden on the left wing with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone, while Amadio is deployed with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith on Vegas’ key matchup line.
“We allow them to try to be the guy,” Cassidy said, “and then you deal with the sort of the fallout of: ‘Well, he’s not a top-line player.’ (But) you don’t know that until he plays. How about we have three top lines and we just, you know, not have to put all our best players in one line? There’s an argument for and against that. That’s how we did it and they’ve taken the ball and run with it.”
Panthers fans who wish to park their cars in the expansive lots that surround FLA Live Arena will be charged $100.