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Vegas Golden Knights pull away late to defeat the Florida Panthers and win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

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The Vegas Golden Knights scored three goals in the third period and showed off what may be the best save of the postseason to claim a 5-2 victory against the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night.

Panthers’ defenseman Eric Staal drew first blood in the tension-filled Game 1 after tucking in the puck on a wraparound for the short-handed goal and a 1-1 Florida lead. The goal is the third of Staal’s career in the Stanley Cup Final and first in 17 years – the longest span between goals in the final in NHL history.

The Golden Knights though would answer later in the first period when Chandler Stephenson made a tight pass to Jonathan Marchessault who buried the power-play goal for his tenth of the postseason.

In the second period, it seemed as if the Panthers were going to retake the lead on a shot by Nick Cousins, but Golden Knights goalkeeper Adin Hill made an incredible save as he reached back and fully extended out his stick for the stop to keep the game tied at 1-1.

The journeyman goalie, Hill, is the second goalkeeper to start for the Golden Knights this postseason after replacing starter Laurent Brossoit who was injured in the second round. Hill finished with 32 saves in the game.

“That was incredible at a pretty important time of the game too,” Golden Knights star Mark Stone said after the game on the Hill save. “He’s been making huge saves for us ever since he stepped into the lineup in Game 3 of the Edmonton [Oilers] series, but yeah it’s definitely a momentum swinger for sure that got the bench energized.”

Vegas took their first lead of the game on a wrist shot from the point area by Shea Theodore that went past two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and into the back of the net.

Florida’s Anthony Duclair would draw the game level at 2-2 in the final seconds of the second period after getting the puck off the face-off and burying the wrister from the circle and through the five-hole for the score.

In the third period, the Golden Knights’ offense took over.

Defenseman Zach Whitecloud scored the first of Vegas three goals in the period, firing a long wrist shot through traffic for the 3-2 lead.

Stone extended the Golden Knights’ lead with an insurance goal after batting down an attempted pass and scoring it from the slot for the 4-2 advantage. Stone’s goal was reviewed for a high stick but later confirmed.

Reilly Smith then added an empty-net power-play goal that took whatever doubt was left that Vegas would hold on for the win.

The comeback victory is the ninth for the Golden Knights this postseason, which ties Vegas for the second most in NHL history, putting them one behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) and Colorado Avalanche (2022).

With both teams seeking their first ever Stanley Cup, Vegas now has the historic statistical advantage as teams that have won Game 1 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final hold an all-time series record of 63-20 (.759), including a 50-10 (.833) record when starting a Final at home.

With Saturday’s loss, the Panthers fall to 8-1 this postseason when scoring first and remain in search for the franchise’s first victory at a Stanley Cup Final. Florida was swept by the Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals in the franchise’s only other appearance.

“I liked how we came out there. We’ll look at some things that we did with the puck and some short areas that we just, we can improve on.” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said after the game. “But it’s going to be tight, it’s going to be tight like that both goalies made some big saves, special teams will keep getting better on both sides, we’ll have to figure each other out, we just don’t see each other much. We’ll learn as we go.”

Game 2 is on Monday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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