LAS VEGAS — Sergei Bobrovsky may have gotten pulled after allowing four goals in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, but the Florida Panthers knew he was not to blame for their 7–2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Bobrovsky had trouble seeing the puck — sometimes due to Vegas outright beating Florida in net-front battles, sometimes due to his own teammate failing to block a shot — and it resulted in just 38 saves on 46 shots through the opening two games of the series.
It was an out-of-character performance for a goaltender who has been on fire since taking the net back from Alex Lyon in Round 1 against the Bruins.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner went 11-1-0 with a .942/1.95 from Game 5 in Boston up until Florida clinched its spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice will stick with Bobrovsky in Game 3 and says he is confident he can return to form.
“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender and he’s been unbelievable for us,” Maurice said after the game. “I got him out to keep him rested.”
Tuesday morning, he expounded on that a little more.
”He was very good in Game 1,” Maurice said before the team flew home from Vegas. “I thought Sergei was like our team (in Game 2) as being slightly off. We did not give him a chance and he didn’t quiet the game early for us when we needed it quieted by the goaltender. I have complete faith in what he’ll be able to do in Game 3.”
Matthew Tkachuk had a laundry list of things the Panthers had to do to improve in front of Bobrovsky.
Which, for a team that has been outscored 10-2 in its last four periods, is fair.
“It starts with line changes, back checking, holding pucks in the offensive zone, being closer together, not getting shots blocked and getting pucks in,” Tkachuk said.
”They are a good forechecking team like us so we have to clean our plays in the defensive zone but they do the majority of their stuff off the rush so we just have to shut down the rush game.”
The Panthers have allowed multiple missed assignments off the rush — allowing the Golden Knights to string together passes to streaking forwards but in the offensive zone and in the neutral zone — and it has cost them dearly.
Vegas deploys a system where a player on the boards acts as a bumper while the trailer comes into the middle and swings by on the rush.
It was executed to a tee when Mark Stone set up a streaking Brett Howden for the fourth goal of the game which sent Bobrovsky to the bench 9:10 into the second period.
But the Panthers have not found a way to stop it.
Some of it has to do unorganized play — some to nerves.
“I think we are running around a little bit,” Sam Bennett said.
”I think we have to be a little calmer, more sound, trust our systems and then just start winning some battles. It’s pretty simple.”
When the Golden Knights are not attacking on the rush, they are sending shots through heavy traffic with the slot clogged with players taking away Bobrovsky’s eyes away from the puck.
That list of players has grown to include Panthers players who failed to block the shots that were heading his way.
Vegas won the blocked shot battle 20-11 and it was noticeable with the shots that beat Bobrovsky.
”The issue is about three inches,” Maurice said.
”If we are going to be there, we have to block them. We gotta get in front of those shots. We are working at it, we’re trying but we’re about three inches off on those shots.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
THE 2023 STANLEY CUP FINAL
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
GAME 3 (Vegas leads 2-0)
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 96.5 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: @Vegas 5, Florida 2; Game 2: @Vegas 7, Florida 2; Game 3: Thursday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Saturday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*:Tuesday June 13 at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Friday June 16 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Monday June 19 at Vegas, 8 (TNT). * – If Necessary
- 2022-23 Regular Season Series (Even 1-1): @Vegas 4, Florida 2 (Jan. 12); @Florida 2, Vegas 1 (March 7)
- All-time Regular Season Series: Golden Knights lead 6-3-1
- Postseason History: First meeting
- How They Got Here — Vegas: d. Winnipeg in 5, Edmonton in 6, Dallas in 6; Florida: d. Boston in 7, Toronto in 5, Carolina in 4.