Takeaways from Game 4: Vegas one win away from title

The Stanley Cup Final heads back to Las Vegas with the Golden Knights one win away from lifting the trophy.

After jumping out to a commanding 3-0 advantage in Game 4, the Golden Knights held off the Florida Panthers to take a 3-1 series lead. Chandler Stephenson scored the game’s first two goals, with William Karlsson adding what ended up being the winner.

“We didn’t want to lose,” Stephenson said after the game. “We wanted to push as best we could, try to take their fans out of it. Just tried to have a killer instinct.”

What did we learn in Game 4? Can the Panthers keep the series going or will Vegas close it out at home?

ESPN reporters Kristen Shilton, Ryan S. Clark, Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan check in with their takeaways from Game 4:

Numbers don’t lie

The numbers already weren’t in the Panthers’ favor heading into Game 4. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final won the championship in 48 out of 53 series. Teams that won the first two games at home in the Final won the Cup in 38 of 41 series.

Now, the picture’s even bleaker for the Cats. Teams up 3-1 in a best of seven Stanley Cup Final have won 36 of 37 series. The only team in NHL history to rally from that deficit was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who came back from a 3-0 hole to defeat the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup.

This is the fourth straight Stanley Cup Final and the fifth in the past six years where a team went up 3-1 in the series. — Wyshynski

Stephenson’s star turn

Vegas has benefited from an abundance of scoring depth this postseason so it’s easy to forget how important Stephenson has been. He was ninth overall in NHL playoff scoring (with 17 points) entering Game 4 and padded those stats quickly Saturday. He added a ninth postseason goal less than two minutes into Game 4 to spot the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead and tallied Vegas’ second goal in the middle frame to put him in double-digits.

The fact that both scores came on 5-on-5 salvos was even better for Vegas after they were held off the scoresheet at even strength in the Game 3 loss. Contributions at 5-on-5 from the team’s best players, and not just the supporting cast, is what Vegas must do to match Florida’s potentially potent top-six attack from taking over in that category. Stephenson setting a tone there played right into the narrative Vegas was hoping to establish coming out of a loss and to carry forward into the rest of this series — Shilton

Tkachuk playing through something

Matthew Tkachuk isn’t right. The Panthers star winger has been the heartbeat of this Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final. But the hit from Keegan Kolesar early in Game 3 may have been a series changer. While coach Paul Maurice admitted that Tkachuk was pulled by the concussion spotter and had to clear protocol — later returning to the game — he hasn’t looked the same since, despite scoring the late equalizer in Game 3. In Game 4, Tkachuk was passing up shots he may usually take, taking slower velocity shots than we’d typically see, and perhaps most tellingly: shying away from some of the physical play we expect him to get involved in. He sat for most of the third period, despite sitting on the bench.

After the game coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t confirm Tkachuk’s status for Game 4.”We got two days off to assess that. Get some good rest and we’ll make that decision [then],” he said.

There’s another upper body injury clearly at play, and unfortunately it may doom the Cats. –– Kaplan

Karlsson in Conn Smythe mix

So. That whole Karlsson for Conn Smythe campaign remains alive and well considering he scored the goal that gave the Golden Knights a 3-0 lead. Yes, Karlsson now has 11 postseason goals and that’s tied for third with Tkachuk. As mentioned in an earlier post, part of what has made the Golden Knights effective this postseason is their overall depth. It’s what also makes the discussion around who could win the Conn Smythe a rather challenging one.

Is it Jack Eichel? Is it Jonathan Marchessault? Could it be Mark Stone? Is Adin Hill the answer? Or could it be Karlsson? The fact he is a third-line center who has 11 goals adds to the discussion along with his defensive zone performances. Vegas went from having one of the more porous penalty killing units in the playoffs to one that entered Game 4 without giving up a power-play goal in its past 11 opportunities. Karlsson has been at the heart of that success by leading all Golden Knights forwards in short-handed ice time. Another detail to consider is that Karlsson has been an active part in how the Golden Knights have played the five players who led the Stanley Cup playoffs in points before the Cup Final started. He’s been central to performances that saw the Golden Knights have games in which they held Evan Bouchard, Leon Draisaitl, Roope Hintz and Matthew Tkachuk pointless or without a point in 5-on-5 play. — Clark

Bobrovsky doing his part

Watching Sergei Bobrovsky of late, it’s hard not to think back on Paul Maurice’s news conference ahead of Game 3. He was asked to confirm Bobrovsky as his starter after the netminder was (rightfully) pulled from a pitiable performance in Game 2. Maurice basically shook his head and lamented how Bobrovsky had gone from odds-on Conn Smythe winner to questionable No. 1 starter in a Cup Final game over the course of about 36 hours. Safe to say, Bobrovsky has been back to his old self making the critical saves Florida’s relied on throughout the postseason.

It’s dangerous, though, how often the Panthers hang their goalie out to dry. That happened often early in Game 4 thanks to a strong transition game by Vegas and a poor response to it by Florida. Yes, Bobrovsky is good — but he’s only one man, and the Panthers won’t reach their ultimate goal without giving him more help — Shilton

Hill making case for new deal in Vegas

Adin Hill now has the Golden Knights a win away from their first Stanley Cup. And with that comes a few questions: What will Hill’s next contract look like? And what will the Golden Knights look like in goal next season? Let’s start here. Hill, a pending unrestricted free agent, made 29 saves including a last-second stop in Game 4. It’s the latest chapter in what Hill has done in a postseason that has seen him take center stage.

It’s likely Hill will receive a pay bump from his current two-year, $2.175 million contract. But if the Golden Knights want to keep Hill, they could have a number of items they must address. The Golden Knights are among the teams that are using a tandem approach with their goalies. Robin Lehner and Logan Thompson are currently the NHL goalies the Golden Knights have under contract. Lehner has two years left at $5 million annually while Thompson also has two years left at $766,667 in each season. CapFriendly projects the Golden Knights will have $3.462 million in available cap space entering the offseason. Vegas has the bulk of its team under contract. It’s just that Hill and Ivan Barbashev are pending UFAs. Brett Howden, who has served in a second-line role in the playoffs, is a pending restricted free agent. It leaves Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon with a number of decisions to make when it comes to what could happen with Hill, among others. — Clark

Montour continues postseason run

Right now seems like the time to have the discussion about how valuable Brandon Montour has been to the Panthers this season. There’s the goal he had to cut the lead to 3-1 before setting up Aleksander Barkov less than four minutes into the third period to bring the Panthers within a goal. Montour’s goal was his eighth of the playoffs and his second in as many games after not recording a goal in his past 10 contests. In fact, Tkachuk is now the only Panthers player to score more goals than Montour this postseason.

As the TNT broadcast mentioned, Montour has the fourth-most goals by a defenseman in a single postseason since 1984. Paul Coffey has the most with 12. What Montour has done in the playoffs just adds to what has been a historic season as a whole. Florida opened the season with questions about how it would replace a puck mover like MacKenzie Weegar who was included in the trade to the Calgary Flames that landed them Tkachuk. Aaron Ekblad was always thought to be an answer to that question. It’s just that Montour responded by finishing the season with the most points by a defenseman in franchise history. Montour’s 16 goals were tied for the most by a Panthers’ defenseman in a single season, while his 57 assists are the most all-time. Or to view it another way: Montour scored as many points this season as he did in his last three seasons … combined. — Clark

Vegas block party

Once again, the Golden Knights did their best Dikembe Mutombo impression in blocking 30 shots against the Panthers. Vegas had a combined 67 blocked shots in the previous three games, including 31 blocks in Game 3. But a high amount of blocked shots means a high volume of shot attempts. I asked Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy whether he saw the blocks as a positive sign or an indication they had to tighten up defensively.

“There’s teams that just pound the puck from anywhere and there’s other teams that play for maybe a better look, right for high percentage shots. So I think we fall more into the latter and I think Florida’s in the former,” he said. “A lot of these do get blocked if we’re sort of on our toes and knowing what’s coming maybe before it actually arrives.”

But more than anything, the shot attempts meant the Panthers were winning the hustle game. “To me it’s more getting to the loose pucks, probably winning their races to get second and third attempts,” said Cassidy. The Golden Knights were a lot better in that area in Game 4. — Wyshynski

Source: Read Full Article