In the competitive Stanley Cup Finals, Vegas may still have the edge over Florida

By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The sour taste of losing Game 3 of the Stanley Cup wore off for the Vegas Golden Knights, who quickly moved on to enjoy the nearby ocean breeze.

Breathe easy with a 2-1 lead over the Florida Panthers in the series, knowing full well they’ve been the better team thus far. Taking a day off the ice and away from the rink — but not too far from hockey on this big stage — the Golden Knights are calm, cool and confident heading into Saturday night’s Game 4 with another chance to advance toward hoisting the Cup. .

“We won’t change much. We don’t need to,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday morning from his team’s beachfront hotel. “We’re not going to beat ourselves up (Game 3). We’ll do what we’ve always done. We’re going to work to get better and continue to develop our game and hopefully get better.”

The Golden Knights have lost back-to-back games just once in this playoff series, when they were 3-0 at Dallas in the Western Conference finals. What followed was their best performance of the entire season.

That’s still the plan, which could be useful since it was also a road game. But there are still elements of what makes Vegas all about this series that gives players confidence, everything from a surprising 6-of-17 on the power play and a perfect 12-of-12 on the penalty kill to the early settlement of Sergei Bobrovsky and even Ivan Barbashev. hitting the post late in the third period Thursday.

“We definitely feel like the first three games have been a lot better than bad,” Cassidy said. “The guys know what’s at stake. It will mainly be what we did, 90% of how we want to play.”

The other 10%, the adjustments that make up the chess match during any playoff series, are also easy to spot. Forward Keegan Kolesar, whose tight shot on Matthew Tkachuk sidelined Florida’s leading scorer for much of Game 3 because of concussion protocol, showed the Golden Knights giving up three even-strength goals as an anomaly.

“It’s not like us,” Kolesar said. “It’s something we’re going to have to clean up. We will not defeat ourselves. We know we’re going to be better next game, but there’s just little criticisms we can probably make to help ourselves.”

They can also go back to making it a priority to create South Florida rush-hour-like traffic in front of Bobrovsky, who has returned to his second- and third-round form in a major comeback from retirement 2, stopping 25 of 27 shots.

Bobrovsky’s brilliance is just one reason the Panthers are riding high after Carter Verhaeghe’s goal brought them back in the series and made them 7-0 in overtime this postseason. There are also Tkachuk’s most recent playoff heroics: setting up new dad Brandon Montour’s goal early in Game 3, scoring with 2:17 left in regulation to tie the game and screening Vegas goaltender Adin Hill to open the way for Verhaeghe to find the net.

Coach Paul Maurice said the win gave his team a chance and that’s enough for him right now. He shook off any notion that the Panthers could have found control of the series — saying it didn’t even feel like it when they were on their way to beating Toronto in five games and sweeping Carolina.

“The image that just came to mind was a frog reaching down and choking an alligator or something like, ‘I’ve got it where I want it,'” Maurice said. “No, we scratched and scratched shift after shift. We don’t seek control.”

Veteran Vegas point guard Brayden McNabb agreed with the idea that he and his teammates were in control after establishing it earlier in the series.

“Go win Game 4, it’s 3-1: that’s a pretty big lead,” McNabb said. “They took a bit of momentum from winning the last game. It ends after the game. Both teams have a chance to regroup. We know what’s at stake for Game 4, and it’s a big game for us.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Sunrise, Fla., contributed to this report.


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