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.”