The first two periods of the 2023 Stanley Cup final were fairly even; In fact, it was 2-2 at the beginning of the third period of Game 1. Then the Vegas Golden Knights scored three goals in a row and won 5-2…
…and then another four in a row to open Game 2, en route to a 7-2 win over the Florida Panthers and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
What have we learned so far as the scene shifts to Florida for Games 3 and 4, and how will those lessons carry over to the rest of the finals?
ESPN reporters Ryan S. Clark, Emily Kaplan, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski offer their thoughts after a wild Game 2:
Bobrowski or Lyon?
Is there a goalie controversy in Florida? It’s hard to remember, but it was actually 30-year-old journeyman Alex Lyon who started the playoffs in goal for the Panthers. He beat the record-breaking Bruins 2-1, Sergei Bobrovsky came in and well, the rest was history.
Bobrovsky played through his $10 million annual contract with a 0.935 percent savings going into the Stanley Cup Finals. But he conceded eight goals in four and a half periods and was eliminated in Game 2 as the Golden Knights took a 4-0 lead. However, the defensive cover in front of him was anything but spectacular. So who gets the nod in Game 3? — chaplain
Tkachuk’s wild night
With 2:04 left in the second period, it seemed like Matthew Tkachuk had changed the face of the series with a legal hit.
As Vegas star Jack Eichel was stick-handling the puck, Tkachuk shot at him at considerable speed. Eichel sensed a hit was imminent, but as he braced for impact, he landed with the toe of his left skate on the ice. That put him awkwardly into the attacking Tkachuk, who sent Eichel onto the ice with a thunderous check.
Jack Eichel leaves the ice after a violent collision with Matthew Tkachuk
Jack Eichel goes straight to the dressing room after taking a heavy punch from Matthew Tkachuk.
Eichel immediately went to the coaching room, raising concerns that the Golden Knights’ leading scorer might be injured. Both Tkachuk and Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev received rough minors and 10-minute misconduct penalties as Barbashev lunged at Tkachuk after scoring.
Luckily for Vegas, Eichel only lost his breath and returned to play the third third. He set up a crucial Jonathan Marchesault goal that made it 5-1 and gave the Panthers the decisive Game 2 lead. Tkachuk returned in the third period and earned his first point in the Stanley Cup Finals by scoring his tenth goal of the playoffs at 12:44.
But then, at 2:01 p.m. on the third, Tkachuk’s night was officially over. He received a second misconduct in that game — and his third in the series. On the way off the ice, he hit a plastic rat that had been thrown over the boards by a fan. — Vyshynsky
No Gudas, big problems?
The loss of Eetu Luostarinen after the Eastern Conference Finals meant the Panthers were already without a reliable depth option, having scored five points in 16 playoff games. But losing defender Radko Gudas for the rest of the second game – and maybe beyond – is the kind of loss that only got worse when they allowed a flood of goals afterwards.
While Gudas ranks fifth among Panthers defenders in 5-on-5 ice time, his elimination in Game 2 left the Panthers without a player who saw the third most ice times on his penalty shootout. That defeat was quickly felt as Jonathan Marchessault scored just after Gudas left the game after Ivan Barbashev’s goal. — Clark
Radko Gudas leaves the game in the 1st period after suffering a bad blow
Radko Gudas leaves the game in the first period after a brutal goal from Ivan Barbashev.
Florida needs to get off to a better start
The Panthers have rarely seemed unsettled this postseason. The first phase of Game 2 was one of the moments where they did that.
The Panthers were passive until the final minutes of the frame and then tried to get things going on the power play. They ended up conceding two goals (one right after their man advantage) and Florida looked discouraged. One wonders how resilient Florida can remain as this series progresses. They haven’t faced too much adversity since the first-round series against the Boston Bruins, and even five shots on their first power-play attempt wasn’t enough to put them on the early scoring charts.
Instead, they played from behind again. They’re hoping for a better start in Game 3. — Shilton
The task ahead for Florida
The Panthers now have two hurdles to clear: Vegas goalie Adin Hill, who is clearly in control and shying away some of the best goals of his NHL career; and the mound representing a 2-0 deficit in the series.
Teams with a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs hold a series record of 347-55 (.863). In the 2023 postseason, the teams are 5-1 in this situation. In the Stanley Cup finals, the rise is even steeper: teams that take a 2-0 lead in the final have won the cup 48 out of 53 times.
Considering the Golden Knights led 2-0 on home ice, this hill is reminiscent of Mount Kilimanjaro: 38 of the 41 teams that won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals on home ice went on to win the Kilimanjaro series. However, in the salary cap era (2005–2006 and beyond), two teams have rallied to victory after losing the first two games of their streak away from home: The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost two games in Detroit before they seven won, and the 2011 Bruins, who lost two games in Vancouver before winning seven. So the climb will be difficult for Florida, but the hill is not insurmountable. — Vyshynsky
Jonathan Marchessault’s 2nd goal extends the Golden Knights’ lead
Jonathan Marchessault scores his second goal to give the Golden Knights a 5-1 lead.
Barbashev comes at the right time
Ivan Barbashev has been an absolute wrecking ball for the Golden Knights, although his linemates have drawn the most attention this playoff. Jack Eichel has sensationally led the team with 22 points and outstanding defensive play, while original Golden Misfit Jonathan Marchessault has had an incredible run with 12 goals in his last 12 games.
But Barbashev, who was taken over by the Blues at the close of trading in 2023, is also doing well. It’s these smart acquisitions that have kept Vegas so competitive. Barbashev has unleashed massive hits — sometimes two in a shift — including the punch that eliminated Florida’s formidable Game 1 defender Radko Gudas. The 27-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent and likely earned a raise from the two-year, $4.5 million contract he’s snapping up this season. — chaplain