Stanley Cup Finals: Bobrovsky pulled, Panthers popped by Golden Knights to fall into 0-2 hole

Jun 5, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Ivan Barbashev (49) defenseman Alec Martinez (23) battles Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) in game two of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — The clock may have struck midnight on the Florida Panthers’ Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

They were dominated in almost all facets of the game as the Vegas Golden Knights cruised to a 7-2 victory in Monday night’s Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead.

Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s hot run seems to have died after 10 days off following a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. He allowed four goals on 13 shots before being pulled for Alex Lyon, who started the playoffs in goal for Florida, with 10:50 to go in the second period.Panthers coach Paul Maurice seems keen on keeping Bobrovsky in net for Game 3, though.

“We can be a little in front of our goaltender and he’s been unbelievable for us,” Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

Florida could not stay out of its own way early on. Ryan Lomberg took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty 6:39 into the game and it proved to be costly. Jonathan Marchessault, who absorbed the cross-check, put the Golden Knights ahead with a rocket of a wrist shot 26 seconds later.

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Alec Martinez padded the lead for Vegas with 3:01 to go in the first period, sending a wrist shot through traffic off a feed from Ivan Barbashev. It was a shot Bobrovsky did not react quickly to as it sailed through traffic in front of the net.

Nicolas Roy put the Golden Knights further ahead in a similar fashion 2:59 into the second period. He let off a wrist shot from the bottom of the left face-off circle that Bobrovsky did not react to as it beat him blocker side through traffic and a 3-0 lead.

Brett Howden put the icing on the cake with a backhand goal on a partial breakaway. Bobrovsky’s night was over after that.

Anton Lundell spoiled Adin Hill’s shutout bid 14 seconds into the third period off a rebound of an Anthony Duclair shot. But there was not much more pushback from the Panthers after that.“We have full belief in our team to come back,” Sam Bennett said. “If there is one thing about this team is that it’s not going to quit. We haven’t all year so we’re gonna come back and take it one game at a time. That's all we can do.”

Here are three takeaways from Game 2:

Ill-advised Penalties Continue to Haunt Panthers

The Panthers allowed two goals on seven tries on the penalty kill in Game 1 after a slew of ill-advised penalties halted their momentum. That continued to be the case in Game 2.

Lomberg’s cross-check on Marchessault was not the only penalty that led to a Vegas power-play goal on Monday, but it was far from the only momentum-killing penalty.

Brandon Montour charged into a battle near the boards and laid a high hit on Marchessault after the puck had already leaked out. It sucked the life out of Florida’s attack and led to Vegas’ second goal of the night two minutes after the penalty expired.

Howden scored the Golden Knights’ second power play goal of the night after Duclair took a cross-checking penalty with 3:32 to go. Vegas is now 4-for-11 on the power play through the first two games of the series.

“I think we just need to calm down a little bit,” Bennett said. “We have had a great defensive zone all year. We’ve had a great system in play. Everyone just needs to calm down a little bit and trust the system.”

Vegas is winning all of the net-front battles

Jun 5, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center Brett Howden (21) scores a goal passed Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) in the second period in game two of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the game, it was apparent which team was winning its battles at the front of the net. And it was not the Panthers.

The Golden Knights had a slew of players taking Bobrovsky (and Lyon’s) eyes away from the play and it led to multiple goals. Barbashev’s goal, in particular, was where their play was most noticeable. Bobrovsky’s line of sight was so clogged to the point he did not have a reaction to the shot.

Vegas had a similar tenacity on the other end of the ice. The Golden Knights cleared Florida skaters away from the net with their bodies and snuffed out any rebounds Hill let up with their sticks. It was a one-sided affair in the trenches on both ends and it showed on the scoreboard.

“They’ve been doing a great job of blocking shots,” Bennett said. “That is one thing we can do a better job of is to block as many shots as they are. It’s always been tough to get shots on net but I’m sure we’ll find a way to get them through.”

NHL Refereeing continues to drop the ball

There has been a lot of talk around the league about the quality of the NHL’s officiating throughout the postseason and it continued to be questionable on Monday night.

In the same sequence as Lomberg’s interference penalty early in the game, Radko Gudas got hit up high by Barbashev. It was not called. Gudas left the game immediately and did not return for the rest of the night.

Matthew Tkachuk was cross-checked into Vegas’ crease during Florida’s first power play of the night late in the first period and was immediately held and slashed by Hill. That wasn’t called.

Tkachuk was then assessed a 10-minute misconduct for roughing on a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Jack Eichel, which knocked his helmet off. Eichel even noticed it was a clean play when it was all said and done.

“He finishes what I saw as a clean check on me,” Eichel said postgame. “It’s a physical game, you’re going to get hit sometimes.”

It is hard to say officiating affected the outcome of a 7-2 game, but it certainly did not do the Panthers many favors.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Vegas Golden Knights take 2-0 lead over Florida Panthers in Stanley Cup Finals