Following our initial series preview, we have a chance to reevaluate and elaborate on our predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. The Vegas Golden Knights secured a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 1. Nobody anticipated this would be a quick series, and with every one of us choosing Florida to win it, it’s a great time to discuss how the rest of the Final will unfold.
If you’re the Florida Panthers, what is the biggest learning lesson to take into Game 2?
Jesse: Vegas has gotten this far on the strength of their depth, and if the Panthers are going to come out on the other side of this, they have to make sure that all four lines are logging responsible minutes. They can’t let Vegas’ bottom-six hem them in and tilt the ice.
Additionally, they have to make things more difficult on Adin Hill. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Hill was very good so I’m not trying to take anything away from him, but the Cats have to find a way to get some greasy goals in the back of the net – those types of goals are usually the difference this time of year. Make life difficult For Hill, and win some battles in front.
Rudo: They need to stay solid defensively. Vegas is a vulture when it comes to taking advantage of mistakes, and they punished Florida repeatedly for theirs. Unfortunately for the Cats, it was Bobrovsky that looked human of the two goalies in this series. If he can’t step up and bail them out – they are in trouble, but the defense is going to have to help him more than they did in Game 1.
Meghan: Florida had a strong second period after a late goal in the first allowed Vegas to neutralize their advantage, but I liked their process. It’s obvious Vegas is a team prepared to capitalize on every mistake. The margin for error is so thin at this stage, this was a much closer game than the final score reflects.
If Florida can stick to their process, even in the face of the inevitable lows that a game holds, they will be difficult to deny – this is what Vegas did well in Game 1 to borrow inspiration from. Their commitment to their process allowed them to execute consistently over the span of the entire game. Once Mark Stone’s goal was final, the wheels came off for Florida – they appeared defeated. Florida needs to let those moments roll off their shoulders.
Additionally, the Panthers need to simplify their lane management. They overcommitted and created too much space at times and Vegas was quick to take advantage of this.
For either team, who has been an unsung hero that deserves a little more credit?
Jesse: I’m the third one to answer, and honestly I love both of my peers’ answers. I’ll go with one who has definitely gotten more credit than either of the names mentioned below, but has been overshadowed by two of his teammates.
Brandon Montour has been outstanding for the Panthers and is a huge reason why they are sitting where they are sitting. He’s given Florida a more dynamic backend and more importantly has helped give them a much higher-end top-four than we maybe gave them credit for coming into these playoffs. The Panthers aren’t in the Stanley Cup Final without Montour.
Rudo: Once you get beyond Florida’s top line, you have Anthony Duclair and Anton Lundell. Duclair is more of known quantity at this point, but they are getting 0.5 point-per-game production out of Lundell and he’s become a useful piece on both special teams units.
For a guy who had question marks about his offensive ability in his draft year and had a Sophomore regular season where his offensive numbers were moving in the wrong direction, he’s found some key points for them including assisting on the first goal of the series short-handed.
Meghan: He’s emerged as a key player in their top-six, so he doesn’t perfectly fit the bill of an unsung hero, but it’s Ivan Barbashev. He was traded from the St. Louis Blues for a forward prospect who just maxed out his major junior career.
Barbashev did produce in the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup Championship run (six points), but he was notably quiet in their last playoff stint with just two points. Now he’s an integral part of Vegas’ forward group and an obvious fit. He’s not only produced at a high rate (six goals and ten assists), but he’s also rounded out their second powerplay unit and provides a heavy-hitting presence which makes him difficult to play against. I’d liken it to the boost Artturi Lehkonen had for the Avs last year.
For either team, who are you keeping an eye on to have an impactful Game 2?
Jesse: The easiest answer is Sergei Bobrovsky. He looked slightly more human in Game 1 than he has at any point since he entered the postseason mid-way through Round 1. He needs to bounce back to what we have seen out of him to this point. Vegas is too good and too deep. The Panthers need him.
Rudo: It’s Florida’s top guys not named Montour or Verhaeghe. Tkachuk and Barkov have good underlyings, so that is encouraging, but you need them to actually put the puck in the net. If they can’t do that, it’s not going to get any easier for Florida down the lineup.
The Panthers also need a better game out of Aaron Ekblad; I know he’s taking a lot of the hard matchups next to Forsling, but he got absolutely caved all of Game 1. If Florida can control the game just a bit more and get a crucial goal or two they can win Game 2.
Meghan: Florida’s stars were well-contained in Game 1. I think this will be another takeaway for the Panthers. They should be more prepared for the expected, heightened coverage, and they must persist if they want to keep this interesting.
If I’m to name one, I’m looking to Aleksander Barkov. Though kept off the scoresheet, he was fully engaged – laying hits and creating chances. It’ll be hard to deny him if he comes just as hungry.
What can we expect today? Have your feelings about the series changed at all?
Jesse: My feelings haven’t changed. I thought this would be a long series, but I’ll say this… I expected Vegas to look a little uncomfortable playing against Florida’s style, but it was the other way around. I thought Florida looked like they were the ones having to adjust. I’d like to see the Cats be the ones to push the pace a little bit more.
Rudo: There are two factors here for me. Firstly, Florida has to do a better job on special teams. Yes I know they scored a shorty, but they gave that back on the very next kill. Any opportunities Florida had to control the game were squandered by untimely penalties in every single period.
Even if you discount the nonsense at the end of the game, they still found themselves in the box more often than Vegas. On the flip-side, Vegas’ PK has been atrocious these playoffs at just 65.3% and Florida failed to capitalize. The Panthers have to make them pay for their penalties.
Second, it’s still all about the goaltending. Adin Hill was the better goaltender last night by a good margin – particularly at 5-on-5 where Hill relinquished just one goal to Bobrovsky’s three despite both goalies facing an expected goals of a bit over two. If Bobrovsky cannot keep up with Hill, this series could go the way of Vegas in a hurry.
Meghan: I might have to revaluate my five game prediction. I still have Florida coming out of this in the end, but I’m ready to see this go six or seven. For Game 2 I anticipate both teams will batten down the hatches, so I expect it to be a closer margin.
Florida has been a great road team through this playoffs and should be motivated to take one in Vegas, so I’m going to predict 3-2 Florida. Adin Hill was dialed in for Game 1. Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t look awful, but he didn’t look as solid as Hill, so this will be important test of Bobrovsky’s composure. Hill’s solid play is another reason it’s hard to envision a blow out, but there’s a part of me hoping for the powerful exchange, back and forth, like Tampa Bay and Colorado had in Games 1 and 2 last year.