Panthers focus on improving special teams for Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS — The Florida Panthers’ adjustments on special teams played a key role in them reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Now, they’ll need to make a few more heading into Game 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Vegas won the special teams battle in a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Saturday, recovering after giving up an early short-handed goal to score twice on the power play and limiting Florida to three shots on goal and no goals on three power-play chances.

“Both teams will probably speed up on their power play once they get a feel for the kill,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said Sunday. “We gave up the goal, then we gave up another chance, actually being too aggressive at times but we don’t want to completely pull that off, either. Those are the learning things in a series that happen.”

Florida was able to learn after getting off to a similarly poor start on special teams in the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, It gave up two power-play goals and was 0-for-3 with the man-advantage in a 3-2 win in four overtimes in Game 1. But after getting some repetitions against the Hurricanes’ ultra-aggressive penalty kill, the Panthers power play got more comfortable and went 4-for-11 over Games 2-4, including the winning goal in each contest, to sweep the series.

The Golden Knights penalty kill, which is 14th among the 16 teams to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 65.3 percent, sits back more than the Hurricanes and picks its spots to be aggressive. So the Panthers will need to adapt and find the areas where they have more time and space to make plays.

“You can learn from it,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said. “I really liked our adjustments after Game 1 in that Carolina series, so there’s definitely things we can learn from where the space is, where we can kind of attack and find those opportunities.”

Florida’s penalty kill also improved as the Eastern Conference Final progressed and did not allow a power-play goal in the final three games. The Panthers are optimistic they can do similar in the Cup Final.

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But Vegas also sees room for improvement on its power play after it went 2-for-7 in Game 1, including Reilly Smith‘s empty-net goal. The Golden Knights power play had a shaky start, allowing Eric Staal‘s wraparound short-handed goal 9:40 into the game, but rebounded to tie the score at 1-1 on their second power play when Jonathan Marchessault snuck in alone in front to finish a feed from Chandler Stephenson on the rush at 17:18 of the first period.

“I still think we weren’t that great,” Marchessault said. “I thought that we were all right overall, but definitely need to be more of a factor in the next few games.”

The Vegas power play is ninth in the playoffs at 19.7 percent but has produced some timely goals, such as Marchessault’s in Game 1. Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said he believes there are other areas they can exploit against the Panthers penalty kill, which is 13th in the playoffs at 71.2 percent.

“We’ve seen some things on the (zone) entries where maybe we can get to the net right off the rush,” Cassidy said. “We did on one goal, and I think we missed a couple of opportunities on a few others. They’re a very aggressive team and with their [defense] playing away from the front of the net, if we can be on time with our plays and get it to the front of the net while they’re leaving, which is easier said than done, that’s the areas we’re trying to attack.”

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