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Golden Knights score seven in Game 2, take 2-0 lead over Panthers in Stanley Cup Final

The Vegas Golden Knights secured a 7-2 victory against the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.

The Golden Knights now lead the best-of-seven series 2-0.

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice, and another four players found the scoresheet in a lopsided affair. Adin Hill was stellar once again; he stopped 23 of 23 shots through two periods and finished the night with 29 saves on 31 shots for a .935 save percentage. He and the Golden Knights have won three in a row.

It was another physical game, and an additional 12 misconducts were doled out by the officials, including two to Matthew Tkachuk.

The Golden Knights chased Sergei Bobrovsky after scoring four goals on 13 shots; Alex Lyon stepped in and finished the game with 12 saves on 15 shots.

The Golden Knights scored two goals in the first and second periods and added three more for their second three-goal third period of the series.

Vegas delivered a suffocating performance in the opening 20 minutes.

Radko Gudas was the Panthers’ best player early on as he used his physicality to shut down Vegas opportunities. But he exited the game after playing just 2:11 and did not return after taking a massive reverse hit from Ivan Barbashev.

It was a major loss for the Panthers.

“He’s really important,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said after the game. “He’s a force but he’s also a much better hockey player. He makes the highlight films because he’s such a physical guy, but the quality of his play is very, very high, so you miss a guy like that when he goes out.”

After Gudas’ departure, things unraveled a bit for the Panthers.

Florida took two undisciplined penalties, including a cross-check to Marchessault’s face, which resulted in the Golden Knights’ first goal of the game.

It was none other than Marchessault himself who skated in and beat Bobrovsky thanks to an excellent screen by Mark Stone.

It was Marchessault’s team-leading 11th goal of the postseason and ninth goal in his last nine games.

He drew another penalty when Brandon Montour elbowed him in the head near the Panthers bench. Florida killed off the penalty and got its first taste of power-play action after drawing a hooking penalty on Nicolas Roy.

But Hill was on another level throughout the kill, shutting down all five shots he faced and preventing the Panthers from evening up the score.

Less than 30 seconds after the successful kill, the Golden Knights doubled their lead. It was the team’s third goal from the blue line in the last two games after getting just three through the first three rounds.

This time, it was Alec Martinez with his first of the postseason. He used Josh Mahura’s screen to beat Bobrovsky top-shelf, giving Vegas a 2-0 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the period.

The Golden Knights blocked nine shots in the first, holding the Panthers to just four shots at 5-on-5 despite generating 23 shot attempts.

Hill took care of everything that got through, including an early breakaway by Carter Verhaeghe at 0-0.

After scoring on their final shot of the first period, the Golden Knights came out in the second and scored on their next two.

The first to strike was Roy, as the fourth line scored yet another goal.

Then, it was Brett Howden’s turn to shine. He had at least three grade-A chances in Game 1 that he wasn’t able to bury but finally broke through 4:11 after Roy’s tally.

Howden beat Bobrovsky one-on-one after an outstanding shift by Stone.

Stone broke his stick in the defensive end, crushed Montour as he skated to get another one from the bench, collected Chandler Stephenson’s pass and then found a streaking Howden to set up the goal.

It gave Vegas a 4-0 lead 7:10 into the second period and chased Bobrovsky for the night, leading to Lyon’s Stanley Cup debut.

The Vegas penalty kill came up with two more strong kills, featuring some excellent stops by Hill.

Then Tkachuk delivered a potentially series-shifting hit. It was clean, but it sent Jack Eichel to the locker room immediately. Eichel lost his footing prior to the hit, so he took the majority of the force of the blow to the shoulder and neck area; he then landed awkwardly on his leg.

“I kind of toe-picked a little bit and saw [Tkachuk] at the last minute,” Eichel said after the game. “He finishes what I saw was a clean check on me. It’s a physical game, you’re gonna get hit sometimes, so you just kind of move on.”

Eichel said he “regrouped” in the locker room. “It was definitely a big collision; got my wits back about me and realized I was fine,” he said.

After doing so, he was back on the bench to start the third period.

He watched as the Panthers scored just 14 seconds in, ending Hill’s shutout bid as the puck hit Martinez’s skate on its way into the net.

The Panthers seemed to have some energy after the goal, but the Golden Knights stole the momentum back quickly.

Eichel got it started.

He made his presence felt on his very first shift of the frame, winning a puck battle along the boards and finding Marchessault all alone in the slot. Marchessault skated in and beat Lyon high-glove to restore the four-goal lead less than two minutes after Anton Lundell broke through.

The assist was Eichel’s second of the game and fourth of the series, tying Reilly Smith’s franchise record of 22 points in a postseason set back in 2018.

The Golden Knights added to their lead on a fantastic play by William Karlsson, who set up Michael Amadio in front of a wide-open net, making it 6-1 with 9:27 remaining.

Tkachuk scored to make it 6-2 just 2:11 later, beating Hill on the rebound.

Though it was still a four-goal game, it was a key goal for Tkachuk, who had yet to find the scoresheet in the series. It may not have had an effect on this game, but it should be a big confidence boost for him and the Panthers going into a critical Game 3 in Florida.

Tkachuk came close to scoring a second time, but Shea Theodore helped Hill keep it out of the net. Tkachuk then received his second misconduct of the game and third of the series, ending his night.

The Golden Knights added a seventh goal on a late power play, as Howden scored his second of the night to solidify the 7-2 win.

In the end, there were more misconducts (12) than goals (9) between the two teams. Through two games, the misconduct list is as follows:

Tkachuk: 3
Bennett: 1
Gudas: 1
Fitzgerald: 1
Duclair: 1
Cousins: 1
Reinhart: 1
E. Staal: 1
Stephenson: 1
Barbashev: 1
Kolesar: 1
Whitecloud: 1
Smith: 1
Howden: 1

For the second game in a row, the Panthers lost their cool a bit, though the referees have been handing misconducts out rather generously. Even so, the Golden Knights got four power plays and have had 11 through two games.

Maurice didn’t believe it was a matter of discipline.

“Power plays are 2-1 Vegas through 36 minutes,” he said. “It wasn’t a discipline [issue]. What happened after that, I won’t debate.”

He was clearly frustrated, as evidenced by the fact that he put five defenseman on the ice for the final faceoff of the game.

The Vegas bench boss didn’t see it that way.

“You’re playing against one of the most penalized teams in the league in the regular season and the most in the playoffs, so you’re gonna get on the power play if you’re working to draw your penalties,” Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s important that [the power play’s] working, because if not you can really lose momentum.”

The Golden Knights won the special teams battle for the second game in a row.

Significantly, the Vegas penalty kill is a perfect 7-for-7. The Panthers’ power play was a key asset for Florida in its third-round sweep of the Hurricanes, but the Golden Knights – led by Hill – have been able to weather the storm early.

That will be easier said than done when the series shifts to Florida.

That being said, Hill was excellent on the penalty kill again, shutting down all 11 Panthers shots and seven high-danger chances.

He was in the zone all night and outplayed Bobrovsky once again.

“It’s probably been the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day and just kind of taking it one day at a time. … I’m just living in the moment.”

Bobrovsky was screened on several goals for the second game in a row, an aspect of Vegas’ game plan that has worked well through two games.

“If we’re gonna be there, you gotta block ’em,” Maurice said about his own players screening Bobrovsky. “We gotta get in front of those shots; we’re working on it, we’re trying, but we’re about three inches off on those shots.”

On the other side of the matchup, Vegas’ blue line in front of Hill had another effective night, and the Golden Knights finished the contest with 20 blocked shots.

Yet again, the Golden Knights’ depth came through as Vegas got contributions from throughout the lineup, including a 5-on-5 goal from all four lines.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason why we are still here. … We have the best team from player 1-20, that’s just how I feel.”

At this point, Brayden McNabb is the only player in the lineup who has yet to score in the postseason, as Vegas has goals from 18 different skaters in 19 games.

Six different players had multi-point efforts in Game 2, including Marchessault, Eichel, Stephenson, Howden, Amadio and William Carrier.

Eichel leads all players with four points in the series and is now tied with Tkachuk for first in postseason scoring among active players.

He continues to be a standout performer for the Golden Knights in the playoffs; the fact that he not only returned from a frightening hit but made a difference on his first shift is representative of how important he has been all postseason.

“He’s been playing playoff hockey all year for us,” Marchessault said. “He’s been one of our leaders all year, and he’s been consistent as well. I’m not surprised; when you have a high-quality player like that, you want to be the go-to guy on a team, you’ve gotta step up in those occasions in my mind, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Cassidy said the group was relieved to see Eichel come back and that it provided “juice” for the team.

“He got hit hard,” Cassidy said. “It’s OK to get hit in June. This is part of the journey; it hurts to win, and it’s not supposed to be easy. So good for him. I think he saw some of it coming but not enough to get out of the way. It was a clean hit; that’s hockey.”

With another multi-point effort, Marchessault has quietly moved into third place in the scoring race with 21 points in 19 games. He’s one behind Tkachuk and Eichel, and all three trail Roope Hintz, who leads the NHL with 24.

Through two games, the Golden Knights have done more than enough to warrant a 2-0 series lead. They have overwhelmed the Panthers and have them completely flustered; they’ve made Bobrovsky look like his former self and have managed to outscore Florida by a three-to-one margin. The Golden Knights’ scoring so far this series ties a Stanley Cup record for most goals through two games (12).

The Panthers were expected to come out with a strong response in Game 2, but it was Vegas that made the statement.

“I liked our game, obviously,” Cassidy said. “There’s still things we’ll look at that we know we can do better, but at the end of the day, it’s a good performance by us. … Our guys were ready to play.”

The Golden Knights were physical from the get-go, and Barbashev was particularly noticeable all night.

“He’s been a beast for us,” Howden said. “He’s so strong on the puck, he’s such a reliable player. Ever since being here, you can just see he’s brought a really big presence for us on and off the ice.”

The Golden Knights did not deviate from their game plan, played with composure and capitalized on their chances. This team, led by Cassidy, continues to find ways to win and remains calm no matter the circumstances. That will be imperative as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday.

The 2-0 lead is important, but it’s still too early to mean much. However, Vegas has been excellent thus far and is closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup than ever before.

“I think it’s been a lot of fun for all of us,” Howden said. “We’re just staying in the moment right now and worrying about Game 3.”

The Panthers will be desperate in Game 3 as they try to turn this series around at home.

“We’re still pretty far from our goal here,” Marchessault said.