The Panthers return home to Sunrise with their backs against the wall after dropping the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Las Vegas. The Knights have dominated the Panthers through the first 120 minutes of hockey, outscoring the Cats 12-4 thus far. Game three will essentially be a must win for the Panthers as going down 3-0 will make a comeback nearly impossible.
It is hard to pinpoint where things have gone wrong through the first two games because it seems like nothing has gone right. Goaltending, penalty minutes, defensive lapses and more have plagued the Panthers in a way that we didn’t see through the first three series of this year’s postseason.
Many thought the Panthers would have an advantage between the pipes in this series, but that hasn’t been the case. Sergei Bobrovsky was red hot coming into the Stanley Cup Final but has struggled through two games. Bob was pulled midway through the second period of game three after giving up four goals. Across the ice, Knights goal tender Adin Hill caught fire. Hill made multiple incredible saves and shut the Panthers’ offense down.
The undisciplined play of the Panthers has hampered them throughout the playoffs, but not to the level that is has in the finals. In the first two games of the series, the cats racked up 25 penalties totaling 130 minutes of penalty time. The Golden Knights would be an extremely tough team to defeat when playing at full strength, playing consistently down a man makes that task virtually impossible. If the Panthers want to come back in this series, they’ll need to clean up their play and keep five on the ice more often.
While Bobrovsky’s struggles and the inability to stay out of the penalty box have plagued the Panthers, simple defensive lapses have led to multiple scoring opportunities for the Knights as well. The Cats have been caught out of position or in shift changes multiples times resulting in open shots and breakaway chances for Vegas.
The Panthers have to tighten up defensively in game three to give themselves a chance in the series. On the offensive side of the ice, the Cats need more from their leaders. Guys that helped carry them late in the season and through the postseason have disappeared in the finals. Barkov, Tkachuk, Verhaeghe and Montour combined for just one point through the first two games. Getting offensive production out of their top players is imperative for the Panthers to make this a competitive series.
Game three will take place at FLA Live Arena on Thursday night in front of what should be an incredible crowd. This will be the first Stanley Cup game in South Florida in over 25 years and the 2-0 series deficit doesn’t seem to have dampened the energy around the franchise at all. Puck drops at 8PM but the festivities will be going on all evening, including a free Flo Rida concert outside the arena at 6PM. For those that can’t make it out to Sunrise, the game will be televised nationally on TNT.
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