Golden Knights use early blitz to defeat Panthers and take series lead

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and started an early blitz that chased the NHL’s hottest goaltender in the playoffs, and the Vegas Golden Knights took control of the Stanley Cup Finals with a victory of 7-2 over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 Monday night.

Adin Hill continued his stellar game in net with 29 saves for the Golden Knights, who took a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That’s the main reason we’re still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just think we have the best team from player one to 20.”

Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 playoff goals set a Golden Knights record, all after the first round. The only player with more after the first round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, the Knights’ 18 skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine scorers in the first two games is a Stanley Cup Finals record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

It was too much for Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was retired 7:10 into the second period, trailing 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games that the Knights chased the opposing goaltender.

Two-time Vezina Trophy winner Bobrovsky led Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his last 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that streak. But he allowed eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I took him out to rest.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals are 31-3 in the expansion era. The Panthers will attempt to turn history around starting with Game 3 on Thursday in Sunrise, Fla.

Hill again brought his fire as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a first-period breakaway, then hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker, then hit him with his stick.

“He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been amazing.”

The Knights were dominant early on, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third straight game with a power-play goal, its first such game since Christmas week.

The Panthers lost their biggest and toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left at 6:39 a.m. and did not return.

It was one of Barbashev’s many big hits, the Golden Knights’ biggest acquisition in trade time, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the Colorado defenseman’s sternum Samuel Girard in the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

Vegas got its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was pinned in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel came in third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

“We handled the dynamics well tonight,” said Eichel. “And we got some timely goals.”

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