The Vegas Golden Knights had everything they ever wanted in the palm of their hand. A 3-0 series lead and a mentally beaten Florida Panthers were two minutes and 13 seconds behind. But Zach Whitecloud committed the cardinal sin when he left winger Matthew Tkachuk behind him at the net, while Nic Hague also left his position near the net.
Florida won Game 3, 3-2, in overtime at FLA Live Arena on Thursday. The series is 2-1 instead of 3-0, and the difference is staggering.
“They stayed, found a late goal and then won after extra time,” said Jack Eichel. “Obviously, you don’t want to waste an advantage: you have a goal up with a few minutes to play. But it’s all part of it. I mean, no one said it was going to be easy.”
Tkachuk hit three game-winners in the Eastern Conference final. He scored a pair of OT winners and one with five seconds remaining. In the final minutes, Tkachuk should have neon lights marking his whereabouts at all times.
But there he was, the record on his staff and nothing between him and the string.
Golden Knights Slate:
In Game 3, the Florida Panthers did what they did to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They relied on a ridiculous goalkeeping performance from Sergei Bobrovsky and a last minute goal.
That’s not exactly a winning formula, either.
First, the Las Vegas Golden Knights did a few things right. Florida’s end zones were taken away again. Despite giving up 10 scoring chances in the first half, VGK allowed just five shots. That means those chances and shots were blocked, many by defenses.
The Golden Knights’ forwards weren’t very good in the backcourt on Thursday. They had several breakdowns; especially in the first period, it seemed like they wanted to settle some scores and either abandoned their stations to get a hit or were “trying to score” instead of applying a structured forecheck.
Goalkeeper Adin Hill faced a pair of free kicks from a few yards away.
Florida had a lot more shot attempts (49-36), meaning they had the puck more often. Chances on goal were slightly in favor of Florida (23-18), but the Golden Knights defensemen absorbed many of them.
However, the Gold Knights also did a lot of good things. They squeezed Florida into the wall, preventing them from going in or out of the slot cleanly.
“I thought (5v5) was okay. I thought there were some jets that were good. Special teams is a big part of this, and the power play got us some… And here we are, we’re going to Game 4,” Eichel said. “We had some chances, but his goalkeeper made a lot of saves, so we have to hold our ground.”
The shoots on Thursday were laborious. Neither team was great: Bad ice led to some turnovers, poor rebounding, and a requirement to skate rather than make accurate passes.
good, bad and worry
The good: The Golden Knights held the Florida Panthers to just 23 shots.
For the most part, his gaps were good. They were glued to the drive (for the most part) and Florida didn’t have much space.
The Golden Knights apparently brought the play to Florida at a time when the Panthers should have been pushing. The Golden Knights again generated turnovers in the neutral zone and came within two minutes of winning.
“It’s not always going to be perfect, is it? I mean, there’s a good push from them,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “Yes, we would have loved to win it. I mean, we were a minute and a half away. So I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the game.”
The Golden Knights also played a good third half, at least the first 17 minutes. They had few chances to put the knife in Florida; probably the best of meaningful possibilities.
Chandler Stephenson had a breakaway and Jonathan Marchessault had a good look.
The Golden Knights also scored two power-play goals. The struggling unit has come to life in the Stanley Cup Final.
The bad: They gave up 23 scoring chances.
On the equalizing goal, Tkachuk was behind Pietrangelo in the box.
“They got to the front of the net and we didn’t recover fast enough. (It) happened to us in Winnipeg early in the playoffs and multiple times throughout the year,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is an area that we are still working to correct, (so that) we are not outnumbered on the network. There are a lot of things that lead up to that first – that’s the bottom line, it’s happened to us a few times.”
On the game-winning goal, forward Brett Howden did not hold his lead. He dropped back, giving Carter Verhaeghe a good lane and space to shoot. If Howden held his ground, it could have been a different story, perhaps even a counterattack by the Golden Knights.
what to worry about: The Golden Knights had to chase down parts of the game in a way they hadn’t before.
Beyond that, Florida has life. The VGK went after Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 2, but in the second period of Game 3, Bobrovsky was once again the dominant goaltender carrying the Florida Panthers. Matthew Tkachuk came into the net for the Golden Knights better than he had in the first two games of the series.
Also, let’s face it, Adin Hill wasn’t great. He didn’t face many shots, but he did give up a few rebounds and a couple of goals from the high slot. Both Brandon Montour’s goal and Verhaeghe’s were stoppable.
After some perfect games from Hill and structured games from the forwards, the Golden Knights were good in Game 3.
The best: Despite playing well, the Las Vegas Golden Knights should have won. They can take solace in the fact that less than the best won Game 1 and should have won Game 3. Florida still hasn’t established forward control either.
Those are the hooks on which to hang your hats.