Bobrovsky pulled, Panthers defense falters in Game 2 loss in Cup Final

LAS VEGAS The Florida Panthers are searching for positives to cling to following a 7-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on Monday.

Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-7 series after getting outscored 12-4 in the first two games, the Panthers need to find some kind of spark heading home for Game 3 at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS). Otherwise, they could soon be watching the Golden Knights celebrate with the Stanley Cup.

“They’re halfway there and hopefully they’re thinking about that a little bit as they’re coming to Florida,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “I think that could work in our favor, but we definitely have to prepare and give everything in this next one and just get a little bit of momentum back.”

Not much went right for the Panthers in the first two games, particularly in a sloppy Game 2 filled with defensive miscues that contributed to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky being replaced by backup Alex Lyon following Brett Howden‘s goal that increased the Golden Knights’ lead to 4-0 at 7:10 of the second period.

Bobrovsky has allowed eight goals on 46 shots in 86:56 of playing time in the first two games of the Cup Final, including four goals on 13 shots Monday. Florida coach Paul Maurice didn’t commit postgame to Bobrovsky starting Game 3 but said he didn’t pull him because of his play.

“We’ll sweat about that for the next two days,” Maurice said. “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender. He’s been unbelievable for us, so I got him out to keep him rested.”

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Bobrovsky went eight consecutive games without allowing more than two goals from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs through Game 3 of the conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes. But he’s now given up at least three goals in three straight games.

Five of the eight goals the Golden Knights scored against Bobrovsky have come on shots through screens, including their first three Monday. Bobrovsky’s vision was impeded by a teammate on three of those five goals off screens, including Alec Martinez‘s goal that made it 2-0 with 2:01 left in the first period and Nicolas Roy‘s goal that made it 3-0 at 2:59 of the second.

“If you’re going to be there, you’ve got to block them,” Maurice said. “We’ve got to get in front of those shots. So, we’re working at them. We’re trying. We’re three inches off on those shots.”

But Florida also lost coverage on rush plays, including on Howden’s goals that increased Vegas’ lead to 4-0 (his first of two), Jonathan Marchessault‘s second goal of the game 2:10 into the third period that made it 5-1 and Michael Amadio‘s that made it 6-1 at 10:33. On Marchessault’s goal, four Panthers players converged on one side of the defensive zone, leaving Marchessault alone in the slot to take a pass from Jack Eichel.

“It starts with line changes, backchecking, holding pucks in the [offensive] zone, being closer together, not getting shots blocked, getting pucks in,” Tkachuk said. “I mean, they’re a good forechecking team just like us. So, cleaner plays in the [defensive] zone. But they do the majority if not all their stuff off the rush, so just trying to shut down the rush game, and we did that against all the teams that we’ve played.”

The Panthers take some confidence from being able to tighten up defensively against other teams that thrived on rush chances, such as the Boston Bruins in their first round-series and the Maple Leafs in the second round.

“Of course, we want to help [Bobrovsky],” Panthers forward Anton Lundell said. “He’s been our best player and 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 and we can’t let too many chances for him.”

The Panthers also need to find a way to score more against Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill, who limited them to two goals in each of the first two games. When Bobrovsky wasn’t allowing more than two goals per game, three were enough to win games. That might not be the case in this series.

“The parts of our game that we know that we can improve we’re going to have to get to real fast. There’s no doubt about that,” Maurice said. “We’ll have a pretty simple game plan. I don’t think it’s about scoring goals in this series because I think it’s about defending the rush and we weren’t great at that tonight.”

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