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Vegas dominates third period, lands first punch in 5-2 win over Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS — The Stanley Cup Final started with lasers and fireworks, decibel-deafening music and boom-boom sound effects, all in a technologically entertaining pre-game package off the Vegas Strip right down to Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get ready to rumble” throwback cheer.

And then the show started.

And they did rumble, and tumble, all the way until the Vegas Golden Knights took over a tie game in the third period Saturday night for a 5-2 win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

It was physical, sometimes breathtakingly brutal, start to the Final as each team tried to mark its territory in Game 1. Whether it was stage-setter for as physical a series as the Panthers’ opening one against Boston will take form in Game 2 on Monday night in Vegas.

This one ended in an uncommon way for a Panthers’ postseason that’s thrived on close wins. In a 2-2 game, defenseman Zach Whitecloud made a somewhat pedestrian shot from inside the blue line for the game-winner, one that found its way under Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s glove nearly seven minutes into the third period.

The Panthers had an ensuing power play that didn’t produce, a theme this night as they went 0 for 3 on the man advantage. Vegas then put away the game when Matthew Tkachuk’s clearing pass was batted down by the Golden Knights’ Mark Stone in front of the Panthers’ net.

His shot and goal made it 4-2 with just 6:28 to go. Reilly Smith, another former Panther, added an empty net goal for the 5-2 final.

There was an on-ice melee soon after that to close the game and the Panthers’ Smash Brothers, Tkachuk and Sam Bennett, were given game misconducts, as was Vegas center Chandler Stephenson.

That’s pretty much how Game 1 opened, too. Even Vegas goalie Adin Hill was involved in the pushing and punching midway through the first period as team made on-ice introductions in the Final.

Only Panther wing Nick Cousins was hit with a two-minute roughing penalty after that first-period scrum. (“Shame! Shame!” the Knights fans chanted at him.)

The result wasn’t the scripted one here. The Panthers’ Eric Staal took the puck behind the Vegas net and scored on a short-handed wraparound.

The Panthers’ penalty-kill gave that back later in the period. Jonathan Marchessault, who went to Vegas from the Panthers in the expansion draft in 2017, scored on a tic-tac-toe passing-sequence play.

Both goalies had their moments. Vegas wing Brett Howden and Stone each broke in alone on Bobrovsky in the first period and came up with nothing.

Early in the second period, Cousins had the puck at the goalmouth of an empty net when Hill reached back and somehow stopped the puck with his stick.

Midway through the second period, Vegas began controlling the puck in the Panthers end. On one sequence, Shea Theodore walked in from his defensive position and beat Bobrovsky low for his first playoff goal.

It looked to stay that 2-1 into the second period when Panthers center Aleksander Barkov won a face-off with 12 seconds left. Anthony Duclair picked up the pick behind Barkov and put it in the net with 10.2 seconds left in the period.

For the Panthers, the power play will be a point of focus entering Game 2. They’d scored on a healthy 27.9 percent of power plays these playoffs and were four-of-16 in the previous series against Carolina’s top-killing unit.

Vegas entered Game 1 killing penalties at a 61.7 percent, the worst of any team that advanced past the first round.

But Vegas killed all three penalties this game. They also came up with some third-period heroics like the Panthers have. And so they’re up 1-0 heading to Game 2.


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