LAS VEGAS -- The Golden Knights won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Panthers by doing something they have done throughout the postseason -- rallying from an early deficit before surging to a late lead and winning.
Vegas led 2-1 until Florida's Anthony Duclair tied the score with 10.2 seconds left in the second period. Duclair's goal set up a third period that saw both teams become a bit more aggressive, but the Golden Knights exploded for three goals in a 5-2 win Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
"It was an unfortunate bounce there at the end of the second, so I still thought we had played a pretty solid second period there and started to gain some momentum," Golden Knights captain Mark Stone said. "Really liked the way we were playing. I thought the third period, obviously they're a good team and they create stuff, but overall I thought we had a pretty solid period."
Nine. That's the number of times the Golden Knights have fallen behind in a game during these playoffs only to come back and win. Technically, that happened again Saturday, given that they trailed in the first period when Eric Staal scored. The Panthers' lead was short-lived, with Jonathan Marchessault scoring later in the period for a 1-1 tie. The Golden Knights took a 2-1 lead midway through the second when Shea Theodore scored his first goal of the playoffs.
Duclair's goal was the product of a faceoff scrum that was just to the left of goaltender Adin Hill. A loose puck was up for grabs when Duclair barely skated a full stride and instantly ripped a wrist shot that was deflected off Zach Whitecloud's stick before beating Hill to tie the score at 2.
Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said the Panthers deserved to score a goal in the second period. He referenced how the Panthers kept threatening, such as when Aleksander Barkov had a shot that bounced off the post from the point that could have made a difference earlier in the frame.
To Cassidy's point, the Panthers controlled possession in the second with a shot share of 59.46% in 5-on-5 play, according to data from Natural Stat Trick.
"I hate to say that, but they had earned some really good opportunities," Cassidy said. "So for us it was a little bit, yeah, we gave up a late goal. But I rather it then than at the start of the third, to be honest with you. So we have time to go in and regroup and sort of say 'settle down' and 'get back to work.' ... They had generated some good looks. It wasn't like we played this perfect period and it was demoralizing."
Panthers coach Paul Maurice said he thought both teams traded scoring chances to start the third period. While true, the Panthers appeared to be more aggressive.
It started when Hill stopped a wrist shot from Nick Cousins barely 20 seconds into the period and continued when the Panthers generated four shot attempts within 40 seconds less than four minutes into the third.
"We had a good chance right out the gate, and I think they came down and had a chance," Maurice said. "The game opened up a little bit. We were all right with that too. We'll play a tight game, we'll play a loose game -- not that we prefer to, but we don't mind the rush a little bit at times."
Fending off that Panthers barrage eventually led to the Golden Knights controlling possession before Whitecloud scored the first of three straight goals with a shot from the point that beat Sergei Bobrovsky for a 3-2 lead with 13:01 left.
Then came the goal from Stone that saw the two-way winger knock down a puck out of midair, corral possession and launch a wrist shot to beat Bobrovsky for a 4-2 advantage. Reilly Smith scored an empty-netter with more than two minutes left to push the lead to 5-2.
Asked what went wrong for the Panthers, Maurice offered a little levity to the situation. He referenced how the Panthers had fallen into holes earlier in the playoffs en route to making the Stanley Cup Final.
"Everybody just f---ing breathe," Maurice said. "I feel like you people that have been here, you're tight. Let's loosen you up a bit."
Cassidy spent part of his postgame news conference talking about Hill's 33-save performance, which was highlighted by a paddle save that was reminiscent of former Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
The Golden Knights coach said he would rank Hill's Game 1 performance among the strongest of the postseason.
"The shutout the other night in Dallas I thought was more of a team effort than an individual effort," Cassidy said. "But certainly tonight -- and it's a team effort, don't get me wrong -- I just thought we were rock-solid in front of him [against Dallas] but we had some holes today, including right to the end where we gave up a short-handed breakaway with two defensemen on the ice.
"It was just one of those nights, I think, the emotion was in the building and everyone was caught up in a little bit, and thank God he was nice and calm."