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Stone, Whitecloud lead Golden Knights past Panthers to open Stanley Cup final

Back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers in Game 1 by less than 10 minutes, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

“We were ready,” said Jonathan Marcheso.

Ready and relentless. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got a goal by Zach Whitecloud with just 13 minutes left and perhaps the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill to beat Florida 5-2 on Saturday night and move past the best. – seven series.

“We kept our composure, and that was good,” said Marcheso, one of six original Knights remaining from the franchise’s 2017 start, who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined and we were able to be the better team tonight.”

Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for the high stick and upheld. Reilly Smith capped it off with an empty netter to make the score seem more lopsided than the game.

The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas on display after a strong opener between the Sun Belt teams, who wasted little time getting to know the big shots during the game and plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistle.

“It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first playoff goal and ended a 27-game hitting streak on March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play. that”.

That stuff is just getting started. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

Before the Panthers even got a chance to answer, they were late in the physical game after falling behind by two. A couple of penalties that resulted from a foul with 4:24 left Florida’s bench pretty short.

The result was decided long before that.

After falling behind on a shorthanded Eric Staal field goal that took the life out of a crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win of these playoffs. Marchessault, known for scoring big since arriving in Las Vegas, responded before the end of the first period.

“You need those saves in the big moments”

Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins ​​of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of what Washington’s Braden Holtby did against Vegas, in the same crease, five years ago.

“That’s an unreal save, it’s a game changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves in key moments.”

Anthony Duclair’s tying goal with 10.2 seconds left in the second didn’t slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal on two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was on display and couldn’t be seen once again fired up the fans.

Bobrovsky played down any cause for concern in the Finals for the first time, stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

“I played a good game,” said Bobrovsky. “I played a good game. Apart from the goals, they created some good chances. They had a lot of good scoring moments and it was fun.”

Part of the fun came when the game was suspended.

Less than 10 minutes in, Hill wasn’t too happy when Nick Cousins ​​crashed into his crease and hit the excited Panthers winger, sparking a handful of scrambles. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nick Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about Cousins’ corner kick and collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

“If guys come into my crease and try to push me, I’m going to stand my ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do too much crazy or go too wild, but, yeah, I have to stand up for myself.”

“There will be a heart”

Florida coach Paul Morris, back in the Finals for the first time since 2001, displayed the same calm demeanor he did in the first period when his team fell behind 1-0 and then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston. before winning in seven.

Florida snapped a five-game winning streak that included four wins over the Carolina Hurricanes to win the Eastern Conference title.

“It’s going to be tight,” Morris said. “Everyone breathe.”

The Golden Knights are in the finals for the second time in their six-year existence, five years after appearing in their inaugural season. Vegas won the 2018 opener and lost to Washington in five games.

The Panthers are playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida was beaten in that Finals 27 years ago by Colorado, 18 months before Tkachuk, this playoff team’s leading scorer, was born.

It is the 66th different Cup Final appearance between the teams in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. It is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century that the finals feature two teams that have never won a league championship.

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