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2023 Stanley Cup Final

Florida Panthers Need More than a Sunrise Special in Cup Final

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The Florida Panthers celebrate the Eastern Conference championship after beating the Carolina Hurricanes in Sunrise on May 24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Florida Panthers are back home in South Florida after a couple of rough games to start the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

While the team hopes to be better on home ice when the series turns to Sunrise on Thursday night, that is simply not going to be enough.

It is a start, however.

”We’re using all the positive adages right now,” coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday morning before the team flew back from Las Vegas. “We feel that our best hockey is ahead of us. We feel that we certainly have not controlled the game at times but in the first game, we didn’t feel it was controlled against us, either. …

“We’re excited to get home. We have to be strong at home and we’re prepared to be.”

For the past four periods of the Final, Florida has been outplayed — and has looked more like the team struggling to find its way in December than the one that won 11 of 12 games against Boston, Toronto and Carolina in the postseason.

Maurice said that he had checked on his players in the early morning hours and described the mood around the team as “strong.”

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The Panthers know they have to be better in a variety of ways if they want to get back into this series.

For starters, Florida’s defensive play has been lackluster and the offense has struggled to get much of anything going against a Vegas team unwilling to give the Panthers room to work.

The Panthers really need to keep the Golden Knights from running through the offensive zone as if they own it.

”Their rush game is elite,” Maurice said. “We have faced other teams like that. We have put ourselves in a position in handling the rush that we have given more ice than we would like to give. Some of it is based on their speed where they’ll get those chances and some of it is just our positioning.’’

Down 4-0 after two periods of play in an eventual 7-2 loss on Monday night, Maurice changed some things up.

Anton Lundell was moved up to the top line to play with Sasha Barkov and Anthony Duclair, a move which paid dividends 14 seconds into the third as Lundell banked a shot off Alec Martinez for Florida’s first goal of the game.

Carter Verhaeghe replaced Nick Cousins on the second line with Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk — and that line scored the second goal to make it 6-2 before everything went chaotic.

With Eetu Luostarinen a possibility of coming back for Game 3 and potentially centering the third line, Florida could have a refreshed look when it returns home.

Will that be enough to turn the tide against a Vegas team which has now outscored its opponents — including Game 6 against Dallas — by a total of 18-4 over the past week?

Florida cannot afford not to try and find out.

“We went 11-7 and there was more flexibility in trying out some things when it got away from us,” Maurice said. “I’m not necessarily looking for something, but we had run pretty consistent lines through the Carolina series. With Eetu out, our lines changed. Because of that, sometimes the dynamic changed.

“We’ll look at that. I don’t know that changed to the lines had an impact to the goals we scored, but I won’t discount it.”

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 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.

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