The 2023 Stanley Cup Final: Lessons Learned

The 2023 Stanley Cup Final: Lessons Learned

The first two periods of Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final were evenly matched, with the score tied at 2-2. However, in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights scored three consecutive goals, clinching a 5-2 victory. In Game 2, the Golden Knights continued their winning streak by scoring four straight goals at the beginning of the game, leading to a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. With the series shifting to Florida for Games 3 and 4, what have we learned so far, and how will those lessons impact the remainder of the Final? ESPN reporters Ryan S. Clark, Emily Kaplan, Kristen Shilton, and Greg Wyshynski shared their thoughts on the matter.

One of the key questions going into Game 3 is whether the Panthers will make a change in goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky was brought in to replace the 30-year-old journeyman Alex Lyon, who started the playoffs in net for the Panthers. Bobrovsky played exceptionally well, with a .935 save percentage entering the Stanley Cup Final. However, he has allowed eight goals in four and a half periods, getting pulled in Game 2 once the Golden Knights went up 4-0. Despite this, it is worth noting that the defensive coverage in front of him was less than spectacular. It remains to be seen whether Bobrovsky will continue to start in Game 3 or if the Panthers will opt to give Lyon another chance.

In Game 2, Vegas star Jack Eichel was on the receiving end of a thunderous check from Matthew Tkachuk that sent him careening to the ice. Both Tkachuk and Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev were given roughing minors and 10-minute misconduct penalties in the aftermath. Eichel left for the trainers’ room, prompting concerns that the Golden Knights’ leading scorer might have been injured. However, he returned to play the third period, setting up a critical Jonathan Marchessault goal that put a final stake in the heart of the Panthers for Game 2. Tkachuk returned in the third period and earned his first point of the Stanley Cup Final, scoring his 10th goal of the playoffs at 12:44. However, he was subsequently ejected from the game after earning his third misconduct penalty of the series.

The loss of defenseman Radko Gudas for the rest of Game 2 and possibly beyond was another setback for the Panthers. While Gudas is fifth among Panthers defensemen in 5-on-5 ice time, his departure left the team without a reliable penalty killer. This loss was felt quickly, with Jonathan Marchessault scoring shortly after Gudas exited the game following the hit from Ivan Barbashev.

The Panthers have faced little adversity during this postseason, with the exception of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins. However, the first period of Game 2 was a moment where they appeared rattled. They were passive until the final few minutes of the frame, and their attempts to get something going on the power play ultimately resulted in giving up two goals. This left Florida feeling deflated, a sentiment that could impact their resilience as the series moves forward.

The Panthers face two significant challenges going into the next games. The first is Vegas goalie Adin Hill, who has been tending some of the best goals of his NHL career. The second is the 2-0 series deficit, which has historically been difficult to overcome. Teams with a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs hold a series record of 347-55 (.863). In the 2023 postseason, teams are 5-1 in that situation. Moreover, teams that take a 2-0 Final lead have won the Cup 48 out of 53 times. Given that the Golden Knights won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice, the hill the Panthers must climb is steep. Nonetheless, two teams in the salary cap era (2005-06 and on) have rallied to win after dropping the first two games of their series on the road: The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2011 Bruins.

The first two games of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final have provided ample excitement and drama, setting the stage for an intriguing remainder of the series. While the Panthers face significant challenges, they are a resilient team that has overcome adversity before. Whether they will be able to overcome the formidable Golden Knights remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the next games will be must-see television for hockey fans.


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