SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have their backs against the wall as they enter Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.
The Panthers dropped both games in Vegas, falling into a 2-0 series deficit to the Golden Knights, and face a must-win situation back home in Sunrise.
It is a familiar spot for a Panthers team which has been fighting to stay alive as early as January, when their playoff hopes were in doubt entirely.
But recovering from this spot also requires them to clean up their play after being beaten handedly twice in Vegas.
“At the end of the day, this series is where it’s at right now because we didn’t necessarily have the best two games to start over there,” Matthew Tkachuk said,
“Coming back home, I think it’s a breath of fresh air for everyone of us to take care of home ice, like we have all playoffs and make this a series. But you can’t make it a series unless you win this game tonight, so all our focus is on winning one game.
The Golden Knights attacked the Panthers off the rush throughout the opening of the series, using the lead man off the wing as a bumper as the trailer streaked down the middle and attacked quickly.
Florida took the bait and watched as Vegas cashed in on rush chance after rush chance using that strategy.
Losing its emotional leader, Radko Gudas, less than 10 minutes into Game 2 certainly did not help a Panthers defense core which unraveled shortly thereafter.
He is expected to be back in the lineup, per head coach Paul Maurice, after taking a hard hit up high on Monday night.
“Radko is obviously a force for us back there and he can be a game-changing player any given shift with the way he plays,” Josh Mahura said.
”But regardless of who is playing and who is on the ice, we have a certain standard we have set and I think we got away from it a little bit in Game 2. Obviously, we are looking to get back to it tonight.”
Even after dressing seven defensemen to start — Casey Fitzgerald was dressed to replace Zac Dalpe (who was in for the injured Eetu Luostarinen) — they still could not stop Vegas’ rush attack.
After two days off and with Gudas back in the fold, the Panthers hope to change that.
And they will be doing that with their usual 12 forward, seven defensemen set-up.
Luostarinen will not be the forward suiting up in Fitzgerald’s place, as he is still out with a leg injury suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.
Maurice would not say if Dalpe would be Florida’s 12th forward, either.
“We still haven’t talked to the guys,” he said. “Don’t want that cat out of the bag in my room.”
Whoever that ends up being, Maurice wants him on his A-game as the Panthers look to start their climb out of an 0-2 hole with a win in the first-ever Stanley Cup Final game at FLA Live Arena.
“We don’t care if our 12th forward scores, it counts as one. We need our best players to be as good or better than their best players,” he said.
”I don’t feel that what was missing in Game 1 and 2 was an A-player putting it over the top. I don’t think that that’s the formula where you go through six weeks of hockey where you would say your team was average but one guy was good.
“I didn’t feel that even with the goaltending when Sergei was as good as he was. What he did there, he turned two series into nine games instead of possibly 12 games. I think your best players go head to head and you’re just going to be equal.”
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
- Betting odds — Panthers Favored: Money Line (-120); Puck line (-1.5, +210); Over/Under 6 (-110/-110). Series: Vegas favored -500.
- 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.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
21 Nick Cousins // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
94 Ryan Lomberg// 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
22 Zac Dalpe // 12 Eric Staal // 6 Colin White
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald, Mike Benning, Evan Fitzpatrick, Givani Smith, Lucas Carlsson, Connor Bunnaman, Grigori Denisenko, Patrick Giles, Mack Guzda, Aleksi Heponiemi, Matt Kiersted, Santtu Kinnunen, John Ludvig, Mackie Samsoskevich, Calle Sjalin
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Eetu Luostarinen (LBI)
PROJECTED VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS LINEUP
49 Ivan Barbashev // 9 Jack Eichel // 81 Jonathan Marchessault
21 Brett Howden // 20 Chandler Stephenson // 61 Mark Stone
19 Reilly Smith // 71 William Karlsson // 22 Mike Amadio
28 Will Carrier // 10 Nicolas Roy // 55 Keegan Kolesar
23 Alec Martinez // 7 Alex Pietrangelo
3 Brayden McNabb // 27 Shea Theodore
14 Nicolas Hague // 2 Zach Whitecloud
33 Adin Hill
32 Jonathan Quick