The Vegas Golden Knights handed the Florida Panthers just their second loss in their last 12 games in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers had been 11-1 since going down 3-1 in the series against the Boston Bruins, with that one loss coming against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a dead-cat bounce before they succumbed to elimination.
Can they win again and put the Cats in a real bind? We’ll find out tonight.
Vegas Golden Knights to win
I expect the second game of the series to be much more tightly contested than the first one by the final horn, but the Vegas Golden Knights remain on home ice, and have now shown that they can put pucks through Bobrovsky with regularity. That’s going to be a confident group skating out on their own ice in Game 2.
The Panthers are no pushovers, but they also lost their composure in Game 1 and took a lot of penalties. That happened to them a lot in the regular season as the NHL’s most penalized team, and it’s something they’ve avoided in the playoffs so far. They’ll have to beat the Golden Knights while making sure they don’t beat themselves, and I think it takes them until Game 3 to get to that point.
Over 6.5 total goals
The Golden Knights brought the offence in Game 1 and managed to get through Sergei Bobrovsky like no one else has since Game 6 against the Bruins. Between Game 6 in the first round and Game 1 in the Stanley Cup Final, the worst save percentage Bobrovsky recorded in a single game was .917, which is an excellent number in today’s NHL.
In Game 1, his save percentage was just .879, and I have a feeling that the bubble may be bursting here. Similar to Carey Price in 2021, Bobrovsky has been orders of magnitude better than he’s shown in recent years, carrying the Panthers to the promised land, but no one can maintain an outlier performance like that forever.
Jonathan Marchessault to score 1+ points
It took a while for Marchessault’s scoring to catch up with his play in this postseason, but it has now, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Not only is he a leading candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Golden Knights win the Cup, he’s creating a legend for himself in the process.
Marchessault is now 15 goals better than his opponents at even strength in goal differential in these playoffs – the highest mark per 60 minutes played since 2007 – and has a chance to win the Stanley Cup against the team that decided to expose him in the expansion draft way back when Vegas first came into the league. Is there any more motivation a player could need?
Sam Bennett to score anytime
I’ve talked about Vegas having control a lot, but the Panthers are still in this series, and I think they’ll have a better offensive performance in Game 2. One of the keys to that will be Sam Bennett, who plays a rough-and-tumble game, and actually leads all Panthers skaters in individual expected goals.
Bennett has scored just four times in the postseason, but has 8.03 expected goals, so he’s getting the chances and is overdue to strike. I don’t think the Panthers can get back in this series without guys like Bennett and Tkachuk causing a ruckus, and Bennett’s up.