Monday, June 5, 2023 | 2 a.m. | Monday, June 5, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The reason why the Golden Knights are still playing hockey in June shouldn’t be so cliche, but it is. They’re scoring goals.
The math is simple. The Golden Knights have scored at least three goals in 13 playoff games this spring. They’ve won them all, the 13th coming Saturday in their 5-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.
Five different players, including two defensemen, contributed to the scoring in Game 1 to allow the Golden Knights to defend home ice. Game 2 is tonight (5 p.m., TNT), with the West’s top seed trying to take a 2-0 series lead.
“The offense is kind of coming from everywhere,” forward William Carrier said. “We’ve got four good lines that can score goals on different nights.”
It shouldn’t be this alarming that the Golden Knights have found the scoring touch in the postseason. Considering how the last two playoff runs have unfolded, it’s an eye-opening revelation.
The Golden Knights have scored 3.72 goals per contest in 18 playoff games. Only the Boston Bruins, who were eliminated in the first round to these same Panthers that Vegas is playing against for the Stanley Cup, averaged more (3.86).
Why the Golden Knights waited five years to get back to the Stanley Cup Final stemmed from failing to score at the right time.
In the 2021 semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens, Vegas won 4-1 in Game 1, but scored two goals or fewer in the next five games and lost the series in six games.
The 2020 playoffs, which resumed in the Edmonton bubble because of the pandemic, saw the offensive decline happen much sooner. The Golden Knights scored 12 total goals in their final eight games; from Game 5 of the second round against Vancouver to the five-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.
What’s been the biggest change? Carrier attributes that to the work the Golden Knights have done in the defensive zone to win battles and break the puck out quicker. That’s opened up the transition game and created scoring chances by either sustaining pressure, or generating off the rush.
Hence why Vegas has seven players that have double digits in points, as opposed to five in 2021 and six in 2022.
“We’ve got great guys on this team that can score every night,” Carrier said.
It’s been a drastic swing when the Golden Knights haven’t scored. Though they’ve lost just five games in this run, they’ve scored two goals or less in those five games.
There hasn’t been a middle ground in the Golden Knights’ success. They’ve played three great goalies in Connor Hellebuyck, Stuart Skinner and Jake Oettinger and found success against all of them.
“I just think it’s our personnel,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve got guys that can score, and when we balance the lines, we can’t focus on one particular area.”
Even now in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Golden Knights facing arguably their biggest challenge in Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, they found a way to beat him four times in Game 1.
Bobrovsky won 11 of his last 12 outings before losing Game 1, his first defeat since Game 4 of the second round against Toronto. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner had a .947 save percentage and had a run of eight straight games giving up two goals or fewer prior to Saturday.
Cassidy said goalie coach Sean Burke had a presentation prior to Game 1 on how best to attack Bobrovsky. When he’s low to the ground and moving laterally, it’s hard to score on him. The keys included screening him, crashing the net and creating opportunities on the rebound.
“I think we trust our pre-scout and we trust what we do up and down our lineup. We can score anywhere in the lineup, which is a big threat for us,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “I think we’ve got big enough bodies where we can get inside and make life difficult for them.”
The sample size is small due to Florida’s dominance in these playoffs, but Bobrovsky and the Panthers have rebounded well following a loss. After giving up five goals to Boston in Game 4, Bobrovsky made 44 saves in the Game 5 win to spark the Panthers’ rally from down 3-1 in the series.
Bobrovsky followed a Game 4 loss to Toronto in the second round with a 50-save effort to close out the Maple Leafs in Game 5. Even in defeat, the Panthers have found a way to push back.
The Golden Knights will need to find a way to break through again if they want to head to Florida with a commanding series lead.
“He’s going to make saves. He’s a good goalie. He’s here for a reason,” Pietrangelo said. “The harder we make it for him — and I’m sure they’re going to say the same thing about (Adin Hill) — the harder we make it on him, the better off we’ll be.”
Golden Knights-Panthers, Stanley Cup Final Game 2
Time: 5 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Odds: Golden Knights -140, Panthers +120; total 5.5 (Westgate SuperBook)