Florida back in Stanley Cup Final after taking advantage of matchups at home vs. Vegas

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Before the puck dropped Thursday night for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice tipped his hand, at least a little bit.

For the first time since the second round of the playoffs, Matthew Tkachuk’s line alongside Sam Bennett and Nick Cousins did not start. Vegas Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy already tabbed his shutdown trio of William Carrier, Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar to open the game — the line that had shut down Tkachuk and Bennett so far.

Despite saying earlier Thursday he “didn’t feel it was a matchup series,” Maurice abandoned his starting lineup for 11 games in a row in search of the best possible matchups to try to turn around the final. It took Tkachuk's tying goal and Carter Verhaeghe's overtime winner, but it paid dividends in Florida getting right back in the series.

“We have a lot of confidence in our team to produce offense,” Tkachuk said. “We’ve been a top team all year at 5 on 5, so just because we’re playing in the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t mean we need to change up a whole bunch of things. But we definitely had to make some tweaks going into this game that were going to make us more successful than we were in Vegas. We definitely were.”

Each of the Panthers' goals in regulation came with the players on the ice Maurice wanted: Tkachuk and Co. against Vegas' second line of captain Mark Stone, center Chandler Stephenson and depth forward Brett Howden. That offense from defenseman Brandon Montour early in the first period and then Tkachuk late in the third was enough to offset two Vegas power-play goals resulting from eight Florida penalties.

“We’ve bounced a bunch of people around,” Maurice said. “We had a bunch of adjustments we had to make because of Matthews’ (absence) and then the 475 penalties that were called in the game tonight, so we had to make some adjusments.”

Then Verhaeghe's goal — also against Stone, Stephenson and Howden — finished off the 3-2 comeback victory.

“We have four lines who can play against anyone,” captain Aleksander Barkov said.

The Panthers, for stretches, outplayed the Golden Knights at even strength, able to get churning on their relentless attack that got them through the Eastern Conference and put opponents on their heels.

Much as Cassidy pushed all the right buttons in the first two games of the series his team won, Maurice found a winning recipe to make the final 2-1. There's little doubt Vegas is a deeper team and more talented, something that has been on display much of the season with a first-place finish in the West and then into the playoffs — and confidence remains with the Golden Knights.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy," center Jack Eichel said.

But the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes all looked better on paper than the Panthers, who kept finding ways to win. While some of that is Tkachuk and also goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was brilliant again Thursday night bouncing back from being pulled in Game 2, Maurice deserves credit for making decisions that led to the ideal matchups — and made the Cup Final finally look competitive.

“At the end of the day, nobody cares how we got here,” Tkachuk said. “It’s a 2-1 series.”


Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


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Vegas unable to capitalize on Florida's mistakes in Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The power play that had carried the Vegas Golden Knights to a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final wasn't enough to power them to a victory Thursday night.

Florida's Matthew Tkachuk did what he has done all playoffs, and what the Panthers had been missing so far this series, scoring the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation. Then Carter Verhaeghe ended it 4:27 of overtime, giving Florida a 3-2 victory.

Vegas, which had outscored the Panthers by eight goals entering Game 3, was limited to just two Thursday night. Both were on the power play. With all pressure on the Panthers, the Golden Knights let them back in the series by missing opportunities to pull away when Florida gave away one advantage after another.

“I thought we did a lot of things correct," Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We just couldn't get the next one to, you know, put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. And they hung around and did a good job. They got to the front of the net. They've done it before. You've got to give them their sure credit. And overtime, you never know.”

Vegas center Jack Eichel said he felt the team's five-on-five game was good only in spurts.

The Golden Knights' power play saved them after they faced a 1-0 deficit in the first period as Florida capitalized on an eager crowd that hasn't seen a Stanley Cup Final game live since 1996.

Mark Stone tied it 1-1 at 16:03 in the first with his seventh goal of the playoffs.

“Special teams is a big part of things," Eichel said, "and our power play got us a few, but you obviously would like to have one to start the third there, but it didn’t happen. Here we are. We’re moving on the Game 4. We had some chances, but their goalie made a lot of stops.”

Eichel rifled a pass through the box to set up a go-ahead goal by Jonathan Marchessault in the second period on the Golden Knights' fifth man advantage of the game.

Vegas had gotten there after Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov interfered with Zach Whitecloud at 14:13 in the period. The play was indicative of how puzzlingly undisciplined the Panthers have been the entire series — and a reminder of how good the Golden Knights have been at capitalizing on Florida’s mistakes.

The Panthers entered what a few players described as a must-win game harping on the need to play smarter after penalties have dominated their play in the first two games.

They're the most penalized team in the playoffs with 100 through 18 games. Tkachuk has as many misconducts (3) as points (3) this series.

Despite being whistled eight times Thursday, when the Panthers players needed to be smart, they were.

“We have a lot of confidence in our team to produce offense,” Tkachuk said. “We've been a top team all year at five-on-five, so just because we're playing in the Stanley Cup Final doesn't mean we need to change up a whole lot of things. We definitely had to make some tweaks going int this game that were going to make us more successful than we were in Vegas. And we definitely were.”

Vegas was given another opportunity to capitalize on its potent power play late in the game after Florida's Gustav Forsling was whistled for tripping Chandler Stephenson with 11.2 seconds left in regulation.

“I'll have to go back and look at it,” Eichel said. "Obviously, we didn't score, so it wasn't good enough."

Vegas was 2 for 6 on the power play Thursday, making it 6 of 17 in the series.

Goalie Adin Hill, whose big play helped fuel Vegas to its first two wins, allowed three goals for the first time in the series.

“I hope it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, at least for the night,” Cassidy said. “We had a chance to put the game away, talk about winning hockey, closing out hockey games, how important it is this time of year. So I hope they’re upset with certain things that transpired. That’s OK. It’s an emotional game. But not tomorrow. Can’t be tomorrow. Get your night’s rest and be ready, as they say, get better tomorrow.”


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Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT in Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Overtime. Season basically on the line. The Florida Panthers keep finding ways to flourish in those moments.

And for the first time, they’ve won a game in the Stanley Cup Final.

Carter Verhaeghe snapped a wrister from the slot high into the back of the net 4:27 into overtime and the Panthers rallied to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 3. Vegas still leads the title series 2-1, but Florida has life and found a way to turn overtime into its favorite time once again.

“We’re the Cats,” said Verhaeghe, after his fourth career playoff overtime goal. “We have whatever lives we have, but it’s awesome. It shows how great our team is and the guys on our team have no quit in them.”

The Panthers are 7-0 in these playoffs in OT — actually winning more games in extra sessions than they’ve won in regulation.

“We don't know how we're going to get there,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who tied the game with 2:13 left in regulation. “But we're going to do everything we can to get there.”

Tkachuk gave Florida a chance, and the Panthers won their first title-series game in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner with Tkachuk providing some traffic in front of the net.

“I had a little bit of time to walk in and shoot,” Verhaeghe said. “I’m so happy it went in.”

Game 4 is Saturday night.

“There's a little bit of collective confidence,” said Florida coach Paul Maurice, whose teams are 19-7 in overtime games over his playoff career.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

"Normally that’s a shot that we’re going to give up, get the save and move on," Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It wasn’t like an odd-man rush through the middle so I didn’t mind the way we defended it. ... I mean, they've got good players. They're going to make some plays.”

Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit and needing to be cleared by the NHL's concussion protocol program — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

“Nobody cares how we got here,” Tkachuk said. “It's a 2-1 series.”

The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

“We found our legs a little bit,” Florida's San Reinhart said.

Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone had power-play goals for Vegas.

Marchessault's goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

But it wasn't enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.

“I didn't mind our game,” Cassidy said. “They made a play in overtime. ... Sometimes that happens to you.”


Florida's 0-6 record in Stanley Cup Final games before Thursday was well short of the record for franchise futility in the title series. St. Louis lost its first 13 games in the Cup final. ... Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. ... Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.


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Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn't return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe's OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida's series deficit to 2-1.

The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

“I felt great — I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour's goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida's power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

“You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

“He’s going to come back no matter what," captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn't get an assist on Verhaeghe's goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

“It was fine,” he quipped.


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Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

CHICAGO (AP) — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.


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Canadiens GM Kent Hughes says NHLers want to play in Montreal

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes disagrees with the perception that NHL players don't want to play in Montreal, noting that winger Cole Caufield was happy to commit to the team long-term.

Caufield signed an eight-year, US$62.8-million contract extension with the Canadiens on Monday.

"I often hear people say that guys don't want to play in Montreal, and I disagree with that," Hughes said on Thursday at the NHL draft combine. "Players are happy to be in a good environment when they're playing hockey.

"It's important to note that Cole wanted to be here. It sends a message to others that good players want to play in Montreal."

Caufield’s salary falls just under what Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki will make over his own eight-year pact. Hughes said it was important that Suzuki remained the highest-paid forward in the organization. 

He also mentioned that Caufield's contract value respected the current market for talented players who opt for long-term deals after their entry-level contracts expire.

Hughes also addressed questions about the prospects available in the draft, scheduled for June 28-29 in Nashville, Tenn. In the first round, the Canadiens hold the fifth-overall pick and the Florida Panthers' pick, which will be either the 31st or 32nd depending on the outcome of the Stanley Cup final.

The Canadiens expect to be able to select a promising prospect with the fifth pick, but Hughes admitted to having some reservations about Russian player Matvei Michkov.

"With the Russians, there's a geopolitical aspect and also questions about their contracts," Hughes said.

Michkov is still under contract with the Kontinental Hockey League’s SKA St. Petersburg for the next three seasons. 

"We'll see," Hughes said. "First, we need to evaluate him as a player and compare him to other available players. Then, we need to do our homework on the other aspects. These are all factors that come into the equation."

Hughes and the Canadiens' staff have been in Buffalo for several days already, conducting interviews with a number of prospects. The event will conclude on Saturday with physical tests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

Canada's last Cup: Montreal Canadiens look back at 1993 title three decades later

Kirk Muller remembers the speech like it was yesterday.

Down 2-0 to the Quebec Nordiques in the first round of the 1993 playoffs — and coming off a clunky regular-season finish — Montreal Canadiens general manager Serge Savard addressed the group during a meal.

"Our plane broke down and we stayed an extra night," Muller, the team's No. 1 centre, recalled of Game 2's aftermath in Quebec City. "(Savard) stood up and goes, 'If you keep playing the way you are, you're gonna win this series.'"

Muller paused for a moment in his retelling.

"The way Serge said it," he continued. "So calm."

Patrick Roy, meanwhile, wasn't sure he'd even get the start from Jacques Demers in Game 3.

"I wasn't very good," the Hall of Fame goaltender added of his play through two contests. "Lucky enough to have a coach that believed in us and believed in myself."

Then everything — almost as if preordained — fell into place.

The Canadiens won the next four against their bitter rivals, swept the Buffalo Sabres, and got past the upstart New York Islanders to set the stage for a Stanley Cup final against Los Angeles.

"Things can turn around quickly," Savard, a 10-time Cup winner, recalled in a 2020 biography. "It doesn't take much to change the rhythm of a game or a series."

Montreal then completed its magical run by besting Wayne Gretzky's Kings to claim the Original Six franchise's 24th title — one sparked by a record-setting 10 straight overtime victories on the back of Roy's string of stellar performances.

Canada is still awaiting its next champion.

"Amazing it's been 30 years," said Guy Carbonneau, the last captain from a team north of the border handed hockey's Holy Grail. "Not just Montreal, which is pretty unusual, but in Canada."

That's the reality.

Friday marks three decades since the Habs celebrated that victory on a sweltering night at the Montreal Forum.

Vancouver (1994, 2011), Calgary (2004), Edmonton (2006), Ottawa (2007) and Montreal (2021) have all made the final since, but stumbled at the last hurdle.

There are plenty of theories why the dry run has stretched this long — from the weight of expectation to better tax incentives for players in some U.S. markets — but it really just proves one thing to Patrice Brisebois.

"So hard to win," said the former Canadiens defenceman. "Even in '93, we needed luck."

The pressure continues to mount on Canada's seven-club NHL contingent, but that Montreal team faced a drought of its own. Seven years had passed since the Canadiens hoisted Lord Stanley's mug — at that point the city's longest dry spell.

"Something they weren't used to," Muller, an associate coach with Calgary, said with a laugh.

Things didn't look promising heading into the 1993 playoffs.

"Don't even think we were projected to get out of the first round," said ex-Montreal blueliner Mathieu Schneider.

Demers, however, was confident from Day 1, especially after Savard acquired forwards Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows.

"First meeting, Jacques comes in and goes, 'We're going to shock the hockey world, we're going to win the Stanley Cup,'" Brisebois said.

Roy remembers looking around the room at his teammates.

"We're like, 'Really?'" said Roy, who recently completed his final season as coach and GM of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts with a Memorial Cup title. "But (Demers) was such a positive man.

"One of the reasons why we were capable of doing it."

The Canadiens had a good season and ended up third in the Adams Division despite finishing with four regulation victories over their final 18 games.

"Everybody was smart enough to know it was going to be a stretch," Carbonneau, a Hall of Fame centre, said of his coach's Cup prediction. "He never wavered."

But what Demers — and the Canadiens — needed was for Roy to step up following a sub-par campaign and those poor early showings against the Nordiques.

All the netminder did from there was win the next 11 playoff games against Quebec, Buffalo and New York, including seven in OT, before the Islanders avoided the sweep in a series that would end two nights later.

"You can see when a goalie has that confidence," said Schneider, who works for the NHL Players' Association. "Just surreal."

Before the New York series, however, the Canadiens still had a massive obstacle on their title path — Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After the Islanders upset the two-time defending champs in the second round, Montreal really started to believe.

"When (New York) scored in overtime in Game 7 we were jumping," Brisebois said.

The Islanders subsequently brushed aside in five games by the Canadiens, L.A. entered the final coming off a defeat of Toronto to deny fans a mouth-watering, all-Canadian tilt.

"The Maple Leafs and Dougie (Gilmour) were having a great playoffs," Muller said. "Built up a lot of hype."

Gretzky and the Kings would have to do.

Montreal dropped the opener at home, but responded in Game 2 following a gutsy decision by Demers to have officials check for an illegal curve on Marty McSorely's stick with the Canadiens trailing 2-1.

The Kings defenceman was assessed a penalty that led to the tying goal before Montreal won in OT to knot the series.

"Game-changer," Brisebois said of Demers' curve call. "If that doesn't happen, I don't know.

"Can you imagine if the curve was legal? Maybe it's over."

The Canadiens picked up two more OT victories in California to give them an even 10 on the spring and set up a 4-1 triumph in Game 5 that sealed their 24th Cup.

"Patrick was Patrick," Brisebois said of Roy. "He was our key man from the first round until the final."

As things turned ugly in the streets with rioters wreaking havoc that night, players weren't allowed to leave the Forum for a few hours. The same went for the franchise greats on hand, including Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Yvan Cournoyer.

There would be no celebration out on the town. Just beers with some legends.

"You're so happy," Brisebois said. "So much love and joy."

"Never would have planned that," Muller added. "Ended up being really cool."

He's also convinced the cool, reassuring message from Savard after Game 2 against Quebec made all the difference.

"Could have went the other way real quickly," Muller said. "Big turning point. Who would have thought?"

The same could be asked about Canada's Cup drought — one set to enter its fourth decade.

- With files from Abdulhamid Ibrahim.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.


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Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

“Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it — like everyone says — one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

— They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

— They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

— Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

— Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

— Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

— Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

“Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here — we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

They’ve done it before.

There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round — will remain the starter for Game 3.

“He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

“We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this story.


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Journeyman goalie Adin Hill has Vegas Golden Knights up 2-0 over Florida in the Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Adin Hill heard fans chanting his name following one big save after another. He tried not to listen too intently.

After all, many in the crowd almost certainly didn't know who Hill was as recently as a few months ago. An unheralded 27-year-old journeyman goaltender is now a household name because his play is one of the biggest reasons the Vegas Golden Knights are up 2-0 on the Florida Panthers in the final and two victories away from winning the Stanley Cup.

Game 3 is Thursday night and Hill will return to the arena he was drafted in eight years ago — the fifth goalie picked, 76th overall in 2015 — as a playoff starter who has come of age since stepping in during the second round. He has since gone 9-3, giving up just over two goals a game and posting an NHL postseason-best .937 save percentage. Paid $2.7 million per year, Hill has been better than two-time Vezina Trophy winner and $10 million per season netminder Sergei Bobrovsky of the Panthers so far in the final.

He also has one of the top plays in the final so far, a spectacular stick save in the opener.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. "I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. ... I’m just living in the moment, and it’s been fun. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team."

The journey would not be possible without Hill, who in the final alone has turned aside 62 of 66 shots. On the other side, Bobrovsky allowed four goals each game and got pulled midway through Game 2.

While Bobrovsky got the hook, Hill has been quick with a jab. Florida's Nick Cousins and Matthew Tkachuk have both gotten a blocker to the head when they have skated into Hill's crease.

Hill even gave Tkachuk a hearty slash on the way out in Game 2. It's his way of telling his defenders they don't always have to stick up for him when opponents encroach on his space, a glimpse into Hill's anger that usually only surfaces for a second or two when he's playing video games.

“If guys are going to the net and stuff, you have to stand your own ground,” Hill said. "Our team all year, we’ve been disciplined but we’ll stand up for each other."

Discipline has been an issue for the Panthers so far in the final. They've taken 25 penalties, including nine misconducts and another for abuse of officials.

Coach Paul Maurice said his team's Game 2 loss “wasn't a discipline problem,” as much of the time in the penalty box came after the score was lopsided. Florida can't afford to be short-handed this much, especially with the Golden Knights' power play finally clicking.

The Panthers have yet to score a power-play goal in the series, and part of that is thanks to Hill. He made four saves in quick succession early in Game 2 that altered the course of the game and allowed Vegas to pounce and build a lead.

Recalling Hill keeping the puck out of the net during that penalty kill, teammate William Carrier was at a loss for words.

“It's hard to say,” Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable for us since he came back. He worked hard at the end of the season there when he was hurt. He’s been unreal for us.”

Hill wasn't even dressed for the first first round because of an injury from early March. Laurent Brossoit started Vegas' first eight playoff games before he was injured early in Game 3 against Edmonton, pushing Hill into the lead role.

He's quick to say much of his success is thanks to the team in front of him, and that's by design from first-year coach Bruce Cassidy. His self-described goalie-friendly system allowed the Golden Knights to finish atop the Western Conference with five different guys in net playing — and winning.

“I feel like we want to be a layered hockey team and insulate our goalie from high-end chances all the time,” Cassidy said Tuesday. “But there’s going to be some, and (Hill has) been there every step of the way.”

Dating to his time with Arizona and San Jose, Hill expressed quiet confidence to teammates about being able to win consistently at this level. This run has shown it, even if the sixth-year NHL veteran didn't doubt himself.

“I feel like it’s more ‘prove it’ to teammates and other people,” Hill said. “Stuff I’ve been working on for five, six years that might be finally kind of coming together.”


AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed.


Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Back to Bob: Florida Panthers confident goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will rebound in Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sergei Bobrovsky entered the Stanley Cup Final as the hottest goaltender in hockey.

He backstopped the Florida Panthers to the final by winning 11 of his last 12 games and stopping 438 of 465 shots in that span, for a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. In two losses to the Vegas Golden Knights before being pulled midway through Game 2 Monday night, Bobrovsky has allowed eight goals in just under 87 minutes of action for a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage.

Despite all that, and because of everything he did to get Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs, coach Paul Maurice is expressing plenty of confidence in “Bob” moving forward into Game 3 on Thursday.

“He was very, very good in Game 1,” Maurice said Tuesday before the teams flew from Las Vegas to Florida. "I thought Sergei was like our team (in Game 2): I thought we were just slightly off. We didn’t give him a chance. He didn’t, maybe, quiet the game early for us when we needed it quieted by the goaltender, but I’ve got complete faith in what he’ll be able to do in Game 3.”

Maurice took Bobrovsky out in favor of Alex Lyon after allowing four goals on 13 shots in what turned into a 7-2 Game 2 loss that put Florida into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. He said afterward he'd “sweat” his goalie decision until later in the week — but also praised Bobrovsky for being unbelievable all playoffs and adding that the hook was done to give the 34-year-old veteran some rest.

This is close to the most hockey Bobrovsky has played during his 13 seasons in the NHL, which included twice winning the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. It is by far his longest playoff run: 16 appearances with 15 starts and 11 wins to show for it.

Games 1 and 2 of the final were the first time he had allowed four goals back to back this postseason.

“Bob has been our best player,” forward Anton Lundell said. “He’s a huge, huge part of our team. We can always trust him, but we need to help him more. We need to play better defense. Too many chances for him.”

From Bobrovsky out, the Panthers need to be much better to claw back into this series. While he looked a bit shaky early in Game 2, the goals followed a familiar recipe: pucks shot through screens or after Golden Knights players got past the Florida defense and in all alone.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Maurice said.

It doesn't help the Panthers that they could be without multiple important role players in the franchise's first home playoff game since 1996.

Finnish center Eetu Luostarinen is “not ready to play yet" after missing the first two games of the series, Maurice said, and hulking defenseman Radko Gudas is a major question mark. Gudas was injured early in Game 2 when he tried to hit big Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev and instead took the brunt of the contact.

Maurice had no updates on either player but also pointed out the Panthers won a playoff game earlier in this run after losing captain Aleksander Barkov to injury a couple of minutes in and have the ability to withstand absences

“That’s the story of the playoffs for each team: There’ll be guys that go down,” Maurice said. “But it is an opportunity. ... There is that for those players (who go in).”

At times in the playoffs, that has been journeyman forward Zac Dalpe. Little-used defenseman Casey Fitzgerald got in as the seventh defenseman in Game 2. If Gudas can't go, Dalpe and Fitzgerald may both be in the lineup.


AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed.


Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


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Gun tragedies hit close to home for Stanley Cup Final opponents, who helped their communities heal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers didn't have much of a joint history on the ice before meeting in the Stanley Cup Final — just 10 regular-season games before the series opened Saturday.

Off the ice, the teams were connected by tragedy just over five years ago. Within months of each other, Las Vegas and South Florida were devastated by mass shootings not far from their arenas — and the then-expansion Knights and the Panthers played a role in the healing that has followed.

The teams mourned the Las Vegas Strip and Parkland high school victims during pregame ceremonies, brought relatives to games, honored first responders and donated to family foundations. They erected permanent memorials inside their arenas — in Vegas, to its 60 victims, and in Florida, to the 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

“The idea that these two teams, impacted by gun violence at almost the same time, are now playing each other for the Stanley Cup is such a huge deal,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died at Stoneman Douglas.

“The Knights, even though they were a new team, they stepped into their community and became such an important part of helping that community heal,” he said. “The Florida Panthers, not only are they my hometown team, they are now like family to me.”

Orin Starn, a Duke University cultural anthropology professor who studies the impact sports have on society, said teams often contribute to their communities' recovery after tragedies. He pointed to the New York Yankees' first home game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and New Orleans Saints players assisting relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

There are other examples, including the Miami Heat giving jerseys and also hosting families of Stoneman Douglas victims and the Houston Astros hosting residents of Uvalde, Texas, after last year's school shooting there.

“Tragedy, like the Stoneman or (Vegas) killings, rips apart the fabric of society," Starn said. “Returning, after proper time for mourning, to the rink or the court marks a gesture of refusing to give in to forces of violence and intolerance, and beginning to mend.”


On Oct. 1, 2017, the Golden Knights were finishing training camp, five days from playing the first NHL game in team history and nine days from their home opener. Vegas sports fans were abuzz about the city's first major league team.

But then a sniper opened fire from a Strip hotel's 32nd floor, initially killing 58 at an outdoor country music concert. Two more died years later. More than 800 people were wounded.

The team scrapped its raucous opening night celebration. The boards that surround the ice were stripped of ads, replaced by the motto “Vegas Strong.” The pregame focus was on victims and first responders. It culminated with then-defenseman Deryk Engelland giving an emotional speech.

”To the families and friends of the victims, know that we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal," said Engelland, who now works for the team's foundation.

During that season's home games, the Knights recognized the Vegas Strong Hero of the Game, a first responder or citizen who risked their life to save the wounded.

At the regular season's conclusion, the Knights retired the number 58 for the victims who had died to that point. The names of all 60 victims are on a banner hanging in the arena's rafters.

Amber Manka said the Knights’ lasting support has been a source of light for the tens of thousands of people affected by the Las Vegas shooting. Her mother, Kimberly Gervais, died of her wounds in 2019.

The team's work "gives people hope and reassurance that there is good in the world,” she said. “I think one good deed leads to another, and it makes a difference. That’s what they’re doing.”

That inaugural team shocked the NHL by winning its division and three playoff rounds before falling to the Washington Capitals in the Cup final. By far, it is the best performance by a modern expansion team in North America's four major sports leagues.

Forward Jonathan Marchessault, an original Knight still with the team, said it has been a “love-love situation" with the fans.

“It’s been really great to be part of this. It’s been an unbelievable run for the past six years," he said last week.


When a former Stoneman Douglas student gunned down 14 students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018, the Panthers were in Vancouver to play the Canucks — as far from South Florida as possible within the NHL. Parkland, a well-off bedroom community just north of the team's practice facility, is home to many players, coaches and executives.

Shawn Thornton, a 14-year NHL player and the team's chief revenue officer, said owner Vincent Viola told him to do anything needed and not worry about the cost. Thornton turned to friends working for the Knights and two Boston teams, the Red Sox and Bruins, for advice as they had dealt with tragedies in their communities.

“The thing we learned is that everyone is going to grieve differently, that everybody needs support in different ways. Just sit back and listen to what's needed and not expect to know what's needed,” Thornton said, his voice breaking throughout an interview.

At the team's next home game a week after the shooting, a 15-minute pregame memorial that brought some players to tears ended with a speech by then-goalie Roberto Luongo.

“To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken,” Luongo said. “Just know that we're there for you if you guys need anything. You'll be in our prayers, and let's try to move on together.”

Eleven days after the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas hockey team — which included Guttenberg's son, Jesse — won the Florida state championship. As the Eagles prepared for the national tournament in Minnesota, the Panthers hit them with surprises.

First, the Eagles practiced at the Panthers arena, with players and Thornton, a hard-nosed brawler during his career, giving pointers — including Thornton's lighthearted lessons on fighting.

When practice ended, to the players' amazement, Thornton brought out the Stanley Cup for them to skate with — only NHL champions usually do that. The Panthers then flew the Eagles and their families on the team plane to the tournament and brought them back.

"Shawn Thornton coming out with the Stanley Cup was just surreal," said Matthew Hauptman, that team's captain. “Everything that the Panthers did for us was just very high class. It made us feel very welcomed. ... Five years later, it is still something I think about.”

On the shooting's first anniversary, the Panthers unveiled a memorial in the arena's main concourse that includes the victims' portraits and the phrase “MSD Strong.” On the recent fifth anniversary, the team wore special shirts while traveling honoring the victims, and their arena has hosted graduations and other student events.

“They have been supportive over and over through the years,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland, the group that represents most victims' families. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.

Florida state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, then-Parkland's mayor, hopes no other teams ever have to step up.

“There are too many opportunities for people to help one another after these awful, awful tragedies,” she said.

Fred Guttenberg said some of his happiest memories with Jaime are from Panthers games. When she was young, when the team scored he would prop her on his shoulders as they clapped and yelled.

“There is one more super fan who is there every (Panthers) game and that’s my daughter,” he said. “I have no doubt she is watching these games.”


Rio Yamat and Mark Anderson of The Associated Press contributed to this report in Las Vegas


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Jack Eichel shows 'it hurts to win' bouncing back from big hit in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk lined up Jack Eichel and leveled him with a thunderous open-ice hit that sent him to the ice.

Eichel quickly skated off and retreated to the locker room, for more than a few moments putting a scare into the Vegas Golden Knights late in the second period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Instead of his night being over, Eichel returned for the third period and set up the fifth goal of seven in a rout of the Florida Panthers that put Vegas up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and two wins away from a championship.

The hit debated ’round the hockey world was quickly determined by all involved to be clean, and Eichel’s bounce back to play another important role in this playoff run only further exemplified a team mantra that “it hurts to win.” Players, after checking in with Eichel at intermission to make sure he was OK, repeated that phrase over and over.

“It was definitely a big collision,” Eichel said. “It’s a physical game. You’re going to get hit sometimes. You just kind of move on.”

Eichel refused to complain about the hit and even took responsibility for putting himself in that position. “Got to be aware of it, you know? You’ve got to keep your head up.”

That kind of hit used to be commonplace in the NHL but has faded with the evolution of players toward skill and away from potentially brutal contact. Tkachuk, the Panthers’ leading scorer this postseason and their emotional leader, is not afraid to throw his body around to make a difference and carries with him an old-school mentality about players protecting themselves.

“It doesn’t matter who you are: You shouldn’t be going through the middle with your head down,” Tkachuk said. “You’re going to get hit. I mean, I would get hit, too, if I had my head down in the middle. It’s nothing. It’s not a big deal. He’s a really good player, and really good players can get hit, too.”

The hit itself was made worse by Eichel losing his footing – “toe-picked a bit” – seconds before contact. He landed awkwardly and grimaced while skating off.

Eichel later conceded he got the wind knocked out of him, but it appeared worse in real time.

“You don’t want to see a guy like Jack go down,” teammate William Carrier said. “He looked bad out there, to be honest.”

Eichel didn’t think it was bad enough to writhe on the ice and wait for medical attention when he could skate off and begin the process of collecting himself.

When did he know for sure he was OK? It didn’t take long.

“I just came (into the locker room) and regrouped,” Eichel said. “I got my wits back about me and realized I was fine.”

Vegas led 4-0 at the time after chasing Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and Eichel sitting out for precautionary reasons would not have been all that unusual. But after coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed everything was all right, Eichel was back on the bench at the start of the third, providing a boost by his mere presence.

“Not only does it give us juice, but sometimes it can take away juice from the other team if they see a guy come back,” Cassidy said. “It was good for the group.”

It got better.

On Eichel’s first shift back, he won a puck battle and fed the puck to Jonathan Marchessault for his second goal of the game and the Golden Knights’ fifth.

“That’s the resiliency we have in that locker room,” Marchessault said. “It starts with your top guys and goes right through the lineup.”

The announcement of Eichel’s assist drew a louder-than-usual cheer from the crowd of 18,561. That meant a lot to Eichel, who also appreciated teammates making sure he was good to go.

“Everyone’s taken a couple hits in their career,” he said. “This is a physical game we play, so it’s all part of it.”

Not letting it derail his and the Knights’ title might make the hit and Eichel’s response part of franchise lore if they can finish off Florida and hoist the Cup for the first time in the franchise’s brief, six-year history.

Already, teammates called Eichel strong and “a warrior.” His coach was most proud of Eichel boasting the toughness of a hockey player willing to take a hit and pop right up and continue contributing.

“That’s hockey,” 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. Good for him.”


Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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