How the Vegas Golden Knights took Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

The Vegas Golden Knights won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers with Jonathan Marchessault and Adin Hill leading the way.

The Vegas Golden Knights may have won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, 5-2, over the Florida Panthers Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. But while the 18,432 were at full throat all evening, they’ve seen this movie before.

Six years ago, when Vegas reached the final in their inaugural season. They took the opener before the Washington Capitals stormed back and won four straight to capture the coveted trophy.

Still, if their masterful third period proved anything, this is a much different Vegas team.

“We’re here to win,” Jonathan Marchessault, who provided his team’s first goal of the series, told ESPN. “Last time, we were just happy to be here.”

The relentless Knights were aggressive on the forecheck throughout the evening. Zach Whitecloud’s go-ahead goal with 13:00 remaining put them up for good. Adin Hill stepped up with 30 saves on 32 shots. The Golden Knights defense rose to the challenge, limiting the Panthers to one shot on goal over the last 6:30 of the contest. The win made a raucous 18,432 home happy until Game 2 on Monday.

A good Knight out: Golden Knights crowd set the tone

The city of Vegas is always rocking, but they went above and beyond for their beloved Knights. The pregame show featured a center-ice sword fight, and the mid-game breaks saw the crowd get twice as loud whenever a celebrity popped up on the Jumbotron and displayed their passion for the home side.

Of course, many Florida fans made the trip to witness their team’s first Cup Final contest since 1996. As a result, we got dueling chants during the national anthem.

The atmosphere was loud enough to strain the TNT crew mentally and gave the retired hockey legends chills.

When the final horn sounded on the Golden Knights victory, fans left the arena having pocketed a memorable experience.

Jonathan Marchessault delivers again

Any concerns of Florida having a sluggish start having not played in nine days, faded when Eric Stall’s first shorthanded career goal gave the Panthers a quick 1-0 lead.

Vegas received the equalizer from one of their “Original six” players, who’ve been here all six years the franchise has existed. Marchessault didn’t register a tally in the first seven games of these playoffs. But he’s taken off since scoring in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Vegas offense has received a lot of focus on two players: Jack Eichel, who had 19 points leading up to the series, and William Karlsson, who had scored ten goals for the team. But it’s been Marchessault who’s been the “MR Reliable” throughout the last three rounds. The 32-year-old scored his 10th goal in the previous 11 games, cradling a feed by Chandler Stephenson from behind the Panthers net, before beating  Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game 1-1 in the first period.

Save of the Hill: Adin Hill’s paddle save was unreal

A Vegas turnover led to a Florida odd-man rush. Adin Hill made a mistake by committing too much to one side, which resulted in him being unable to block the pass across the ice. Remarkably, he turned to his right, got his paddle on the ice, and denied Nick Cousins to keep the game tied in the second period. Cousins had a rebound opportunity. But Alex Pietrangelo was able to block that shot with his stick. The stop kept the Golden Knights in the contest. It highlighted an impressive night for Hill in his maiden Stanley Cup final game.

Vegas fans had seen that “paddle save” before. It was in Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Braden Holtby dived to his right to stop Alex Tuch to preserve a victory that set the stage for the Capitals gentleman’s sweep of the Golden Knights.

It’s referred to as “The Save,” celebrated in Washington, and signified the eventual turning point where hopes for an inaugural Stanley Cup in Vegas turned south.

Hill said his stop came from years of hard work and dedication. Yoga was crucial to his game-day preparation, providing physical and mental benefits. He sports an impressive .937 save percentage with a +6.4 Goals Saved Above Expected in these playoffs.

The sensational save proved critical when Shea Theodore, another of Vegas’s “Original, Six,” gave his team the lead a few minutes later. Theodore danced around Duclair at the blue line and rifled a shot off the post and in for his first goal of the playoffs.

Theodore’s snipe seemed enough for Vegas to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. But Anthony Duclair scored from the right circle with 10.2 seconds left, tying the game after Aleksander Barkov won the face-off. With the game even at two, it set up a frantic third period to decide the series opener.


Vegas’ third-period takeover

If a playoff series is a boxing match, Vegas delivered the first hook.

Both teams established their forecheck. But Vegas proved better at turning them into breakouts. Their speed and skill overwhelmed Florida, forcing turnovers and leading to more offensive zone time. Florida’s superstar goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky tried to keep his team in it.

However, the pressure from the Golden Knights became overwhelming for him to manage. Ian Barbashev attempted a shot in the slot. But Bobrovsky prevented it. However, Jack Eichel slid the puck to Barbashev, who quickly passed it back to the top of the key. It led to a goal through traffic by Whitecloud, giving the Golden Knights a 3-2 lead.

The Panthers did their best to beat Vegas mentally. But the Golden Knights embraced their physical play and remained disciplined. Their composure led to Florida unraveling. Mark Stone’s stick batted down a Tkachuk turnover up the middle before the captain beat Bobrovsky, giving the Golden Knights a 4-2 lead.

Florida coach Paul Maurice challenged the play for a potential high stick. But the call stood. It was part of a frustrating night for the Panthers. Yet there’s no need to panic. “We lost the first game in the Boston series, got a little better than lost two more, got a little better,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”  Vegas sealed the opener when Eichel found Reilly Smith for an empty-net goal with 1:45 remaining.


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