LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two games into the Stanley Cup Final, the Florida Panthers look like an 8 seed for the first time all playoffs.
Florida was torched for a second consecutive game, losing 7-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday to fall into a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
And while the series may be far from over as the scene shifts to Florida for Games 3 and 4, the Panthers will need a much better effort from their contingent of stars that led them past three of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference and into the Cup Final.
“The parts of our game that we know that we can improve, we’re going to have to get to real fast. There’s no doubt about that,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ll have a pretty simple game plan. I don’t think it’s about scoring goals in this series because I think it’s about defending the rush, and we weren’t great at that tonight.”
The Panthers allowed an average of 2.6 goals through their first 16 playoff games, but have been lit up for 12 in the first two of the final. Vegas’ 12 goals match the most by a team through the first two games of the Cup Final since the NHL expansion era began in 1967-68.
Sergei Bobrovsky, the hottest goaltender in hockey going into the final, was pulled midway through Game 2 after allowing four goals on 13 shots to the Golden Knights.
It marked the first time this postseason the 13-year veteran allowed four goals in consecutive games. He also gave up four goals in each of his last two regular-season games.
Jonathan Marchessault and Alec Martinez gave Vegas a 2-0 lead in the first period. Nicolas Roy made it 3-0 just 2:59 into the second, and Brett Howden ended Bobrovsky’s night minutes later when he deked his way across the crease and tapped the puck into a wide-open net.
Alex Lyon, who opened the playoffs as Florida’s starter, replaced Bobrovsky after Howden scored 7:10 into the second.
Bobrovsky coming into the series had won 11 of 12 games and stopped 438 of 465 shots during that span for a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
So far in the final, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage.
Lyon finished the game allowing three goals on 15 shots.
Maurice was non-committal when asked about the team’s goalie status for Game 3.
“We’ll sweat about that for the next two days,” he said. “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender. He’s been unbelievable for us, so I got him out to keep him rested.”
Then there’s MVP finalist and alternate captain Matthew Tkachuk, who has been the offensive leader for the Panthers with nine goals and 12 assists in the first three rounds. He now has more misconducts (3) than he does goals (1) in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Florida was whistled for 14 penalties, including two misconducts by Tkachuk, who insisted the Panthers are simply playing their brand of physical hockey.
“I just think we’re a big, physical team,” Tkachuk said. “That’s how we have played the last second half of the year and been successful. I just don’t think there’s teams that play as physical as we do.”
Maybe not, but the Golden Knights have capitalized on Florida’s 130 penalty minutes, going 4 for 11 (36.4%) on the power play, a major jump from their 18.5% clip through the first three rounds.
What should have the Panthers concerned is they’ve been worse on the penalty kill at home than on the road, giving up six goals on 19 chances. That 68.4% rate ranks 14th of 16 playoff teams.
Tkachuk was confident, however, the Panthers would rediscover the magic that got them past three opponents they weren’t supposed to beat.
“I think that going home and playing in front of our amazing fans and the momentum we’ve had playing there like the last month and honestly since January, we’ve been a solid home team, and we’re going to need them and hope to come out in Game 3 playing our best hockey of the season,” Tkachuk said. “I think if we do that, that’ll be a recipe for success for us, and can make this a series.”