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Florida Panthers Put Up a ‘Fight’ in Cup Final Rematch

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Vegas’ Keegan Kolesar takes a right-cross from Ryan Lomberg during the first period of the Florida Panthers’ 4-2 win in the rematch of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final on Saturday in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SUNRISE — As much as they hated admitting it, the Florida Panthers were still holding a grudge from their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Yeah, it was pretty apparent on Saturday.

Those emotions were on full display as the Panthers faced the Golden Knights for the first time since they stood on the ice in Vegas and watched them lift the Cup six months ago.

“Once you start doing the video and you see some familiar faces, their logo and stuff like that, that brings back some not-so-good memories,” Ryan Lomberg said.

“As you get closer to game time, I think the blood started boiling.”

The Panthers — and Lomberg, especially — let their anger in what ended up being a 4-2 win at Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday.

Perhaps the Golden Knights coming to town, were exactly what the Panthers needed.

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Florida got back to its physical style of game, grinding things out with 24 hits on the official sheet as it grinded out scoring chances near the front of the net.

That style of play was something the Panthers had strayed from in a stretch where they were 1-4-0 in their past five games.

“I think it does,” Sam Bennett said when asking if the emotions they had coming into the game helped them get back to their identity.

“Obviously, we’d lost a couple in a row, so to get that game and play that style of hockey the way we like to play was huge for our team and our whole game confidence.

“It was definitely a huge game for us.”

Early on, it seemed like Saturday’s Final rematch was going to be another Florida game where its offense just could not get going.

After all, this was a Panthers team which had only scored two goals in its past four losses.

The Panthers did jump out to a 20-3 lead in shots on goal and a 14-2 lead in scoring chances in the first 20, they had nothing to show for it on the scoresheet.

Florida did, however, get a boost of energy after Lomberg settled a personal score midway through the opening period.

When Lomberg lined up for a face-off next to Keegan Kolesar with 9:05 to go in the first, he knew he had a chance to atone for the play which essentially ended the Panthers’ superb postseason run.

In Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, Kolesar delivered a blow to Matthew Tkachuk at center ice. It was a clean play, but did fracture Tkachuk’s sternum.

While he returned to the game and scored the game-tying goal, Tkachuk was never the same and it left a huge hole in Florida’s offense as it dropped the next two games to lose the series in five games.

“Credit to him for letting me get redemption for last year,” Lomberg said. “He is the guy who caught [Tkachuk] to take him out of the series, so he gave me the chance to even the score and he is a pretty tough customer to combat.”

Kolesar was hesitant to drop the gloves at first, telling Lomberg he “kinda missed his chance last season.”

But as soon as Lomberg told him he was in a cast during that series, Kolesar obliged.

Not a great idea.

Lomberg delivered a one-punch knockout to Kolesar’s chin which sent the sold out joint into a frenzy.

“It was awesome for Lombo to do that,” Bennett said.

“You know, he is always going to have guys’ back. He is a warrior and that was awesome to see.”

Mark Stone scored the game’s opening goal 1:21 into the second period, and while it could have sucked the life out of the Panthers, it did not have that effect.

Florida kept pushing and stuck to their identity without forcing anything.

It worked.

After a continuation of their game in the first period, Bennett finally got the Panthers on the board 8:58 into the second period to tie the score at 1.

Gus Forsling added another with a blast from the point with 4:44 to go in the second period.

While Pavel Dorofeyev tied the score with 23 seconds to go in the second, the Panthers did not let that affect their pace of play in the third.

Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart picked up power play goals early in the third and Florida held on to win.

“Any time we play an emotional game, we always play better,” Verhaeghe said.

“I think the system we’re playing, especially, it’s hard on our bodies. We play as hard as we can every night, and I think anytime we get up for a game and everyone’s dialed in, we can see what we can do.”

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

  • When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Tampa Bay: Wednesday, Feb. 17. At Florida: March 16.
  • Last season: Even 2-2
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 75-50-19, 10 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Montreal, 7 p.m.

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