Pain but no panic for Panthers after Game 1 loss to Golden Knights in Cup Final

Adin Hill made 33 saves on 35 shots and Zach Whitecloud scored the eventual game-winning goal with 13 minutes left in the third period as the Vegas Golden Knights went on to a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

LAS VEGAS – Paul Maurice is projecting calm.

He’s cracking jokes, breaking ice, and staying the course.

Just because his hockey team lost for just the second time in its past 13 games — all big ones, all against favoured opponents — doesn’t mean he’s about to lose his cool.

“It’s a tight game. Both teams make mistakes,” the Florida Panthers head coach reasons after his group blew an early lead to the Vegas Golden Knights and lost 5-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.

“We lost the first game in the Boston series. Well, we got a little better. Then we lost two more, got a little better.”

Maurice pauses and addresses a room of quiet reporters.

“Everybody just (expletive) breathe.”



If the first 60 minutes of the NHL’s southernmost championship series is any indication, we’re in for a doozy.

Hate is brewing. Highlights are reeling. And characters are emerging.

With the score 1-1 in the second, Maurice’s Panthers had a golden opportunity to reclaim the lead when Nick Cousins saw his open-net tap-in swiped away by Adin Hill’s desperate paddle stop.

Shortly thereafter, Shea Theodore instead scored the goal-ahead goal for the home side.

The margins, they are thinner than the swimsuit bodies at the Vegas pool parties you can’t compete with.

Hill’s save buzzed through social media and was all the talk inside the Golden Knights’ dressing room afterward.

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Naturally, the goaltender was awarded the Knights’ player-of-the-game Elvis wig and shades for his efforts.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a momentum swinger, for sure. It got the bench energized,” said captain Mark Stone. “You know, it kind of opens up your eyes a little bit too. Maybe we weren’t playing great to start the second, but that save kind of turned it around for us. Got us going.”

Last time the Knights were in a final, in 2018, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby made a strikingly similar paddle stop in that exact end of the T-Mobile Arena ice. In Washington, they simply refer to it as “The Save.”

“Yeah, Holtby had an unbelievable series,” Hill said. “He’s part of the reason why the Capitals won that Cup for sure. A big reason.”

Original Misfit Jonathan Marchessault felt a rush of déjà vu turned inside-out.

“I saw it the same way. It was a save that changed the game,” Marchessault said. “He has been excellent since his playoff debut. Adin never gives up. He works hard. He has the same mentality as the team.”

Morsels of extra effort and tiny slips in judgment – these are what can define playoff heroes or unravel them.

Take Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk, who spoke mere hours before puck drop about how players can’t try to do too much when the stage elevates like this.

Yet Tkachuk’s costly turnover in his own end in middle ice led directly to Stone’s third-period insurance goal.

Stone knocked Tkachuk’s failed clear in the slot and beat Sergei Bobrovsky clean and high to bank the win.

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For Florida, failure to make good on second-period chances bled into some costly third-period gaffes and dissolved into a lack of composure in garbage time.

Maurice had no choice but to find some gallows humour after his MVP helped hand Vegas the series lead after the rusty (Eric Staal’s thought) and “flat” (Carter Verhaeghe’s word) Cats had still managed a decent road effort and a tied scoreboard after 40 minutes.

How tough was Tkachuk’s gift?

“It was 2-2! It was tough, man,” Maurice said.

“Like, on the gradation of tough, like root canal to lumpy oatmeal, it was closer to the root canal side.”

Yes, for the Panthers, this one stings a little.

Alas, it is but one.


Bounce back.

Eliminate a mistake, covert on a chance, steal Game 2 Monday, and balance will be restored.

Or, as the Zen-like Bobrovsky said after allowing four goals for the first time since April: “We play, we learn, and we move on.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Shea Theodore was fantastic all night, dancing Anthony Duclair at the blueline before snapping his first of the postseason and adding an assist.

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“Shea has the ability to move laterally as good as any defenceman I’ve ever seen. So, good for him to find the middle of the ice,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.

These opportunities are available for Vegas’s D-men because Florida plays man-to-man in its own zone. Beat the first guy, and you earn yourself a shooting lane.

• Golden Knights fans chant “Shame! Shame!” at opposing players who commit a penalty as they skate to the box.

It’s barbaric. It’s beautiful.

• What I wouldn’t give to overhear a hockey game conversation between Lil Jon and Owen Wilson.

• Eric Staal went 6,198 days between scoring goals in the Stanley Cup Final.

“Felt good,” he said. “It would feel a lot better in a win.”

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• Nice, under-the-radar move by Maurice to dress AHL/NHL ’tweener Zac Dalpe in Game 1. By participating in the final, Dalpe will get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup should the Panthers rally to win.

Because Dalpe only played 14 games for the Cats this season, he otherwise would’ve been ineligible. The 33-year-old journeyman’s 168 big-league games have been sprinkled over 13 pro seasons.

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