Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzTwitter LogoFeatured Columnist IIIJune 9, 2023

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final: 5 Takeaways from Golden Knights-Panthers Game 3

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    David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have a series.

    The Florida Panthers were less than three minutes from a three-game deficit in the Stanley Cup Final before rallying for a late regulation goal from Mathew Tkachuk and an OT winner from Carter Verhaeghe that yielded a 3-2 defeat of the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Vegas won the first two games in the Nevada desert and led 2-1 late in Game 3 before Florida pulled its goalie and Tkachuk scored with 2:13 left.

    It was the first Cup Final win in franchise history after Florida had been swept by Colorado in 1996 and dropped the first two to the Golden Knights.

    Game 4 will return to the FLA Live Arena on Saturday night in Sunrise, Florida.

    The B/R hockey team took in all the Thursday action and came up with a list of the most pertinent takeaways from an eventful Game 3. Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

    Watch complete coverage of the Stanley Cup Final on TNT, TBS and Tru TV.

The Cardiac Cats Stay Alive

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    The Golden Knights had a 2-0 series lead and a power play.

    But it was overtime, so the Panthers weren’t concerned.

    Florida reached an extra session for the seventh time this postseason and maintained a remarkable unbeaten record thanks to Carter Verhaeghe’s winner at 4:27.

    And according to the goal-scorer, there was zero doubt in the locker room.

    “We kept it loose in there. Just go out and play hockey and have fun,” he said. “(Sam Bennett) made a great play. I had a little bit of time to walk in and shoot and I’m just really happy it went in.”

    Florida won a pair of OT games against Boston in the first round, including a series decider in Game 7, and they then beat Toronto in Games 3 and 5 of the second round and outlasted Carolina in Games 1 and 2. The first game, incidentally, was a four-OT marathon.

    “We’re the Cats,” Verhaeghe told reporters. “However many lives we have, the guys on our team have no quit in them.”

    It was the 10th straight OT win for the franchise, the second-longest streak in NHL history.

    “Overall, it’s the gutsiest win of our season,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “I’m super lucky to be part of this group. We’ve been in this position before and we knew what the ending was going to be. We just didn’t know how it would come.”

The Playoff Chucky Legend Continues

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    Matthew Tkachuk has been a playoff legend for the Panthers.

    His OT goal finished off the Boston Bruins in the first round, and he’d added two other extra-time winners as Florida made its way through the subsequent two rounds.

    But he saved his clutchiest performance for Thursday night.

    Bounced from the game by a hard first-period hit from Keegan Kolesar, the first-year Panther returned to the ice early in the second, then scored the season-saving goal that forced OT with 2:13 remaining in the third period.

    And when Verhaeghe snapped in the game-winner from the slot over Adin Hill’s glove, it was Tkachuk swooping in from the right side to create traffic that may have impacted the Vegas goaltender ever so slightly.

    He’d already had 10 goals and 22 points in these playoffs before Thursday night, far more than the 15 points he’d produced across 27 games in four postseasons with Calgary.

    “When the game gets into the nitty gritty, he’s the guy they’re looking to and he’s been coming through all playoffs,” TNT analyst Wayne Gretzky said. “The whole team has a flair for the dramatic and no one more than Matthew Tkachuk. He knows where to get to and he knows how to get there.”

Bob Was Bobbing

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Sergei Bobrovsky was far from his best to start the series.

    But that certainly changed on Thursday night.

    The two-time Vezina Trophy winner played a lot more like his old accolade-earning self in a spectacular Game 3 effort, keeping the Panthers alive with save after unlikely save.

    Now 34 years old, he was a veteran of 628 regular-season starts when these playoffs began but had been relegated to a No. 2 role behind teammate Alex Lyon.

    He took over for the 30-year-old journeyman in Game 3 of the opening round against Boston and started every game since, leading Florida to its ultimate seven-game defeat of the Bruins and subsequent eliminations of Toronto and Carolina.

    He’d allowed eight goals on 46 shots in a pedestrian first two games against the Golden Knights but stopped five of six shots in the first 20 minutes of Game 3 before making 12 more stops on 13 shots in the second period, including an outright robbery of Brett Howden with his blocker glove and a smothering of a partial Chandler Stephenson breakaway.

    In fact, Bobrovsky did not surrender an even-strength goal while holding the opposition to two or fewer goals for the ninth time in 17 starts this postseason.

    “He’s given his team every opportunity to continue to be in this game here,” TNT analyst Eddie Olczyk said during Thursday’s third period. “Brilliant stop after brilliant stop.”

Marchessault Continues to Wreak Havoc Against His Old Team

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Jonathan Marchessault spent 75 games as a Florida Panther in the 2016-17 season and was nothing if not productive, scoring 30 goals and producing 51 points.

    But the Panthers left him unprotected in the subsequent expansion draft, enabling him to join the Golden Knights as part of their inaugural roster.

    It’s a fair bet to suggest they’d like him back these days.

    The 32-year-old winger prolonged the most torrid stretch of his career on Thursday night, taking a power-play feed from Jack Eichel and one-timing it past Bobrovsky for what might have been the game-winning goal at 14:59 of the second period.

    It was the 11th goal in the last 10 games for the emerging Conn Smythe Trophy front-runner, who reached the league as an undrafted free agent and played 49 games across three seasons for Columbus and Tampa Bay before the one-year run with Florida.

    It was his 13th goal of the playoffs, tying him with Leon Draisaitl, who scored 13 in 12 games with Edmonton before the Oilers were bounced by Vegas in the second round. It also made him the fifth player in 40 years to score in each of the first three games of a Cup Final.

    “What can you say?” Gretzky said. “He’s playing the best hockey of his career at the most important time.”

Florida Continues to Rack Up Penalties

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    It didn’t matter in the long run on Thursday.

    But it hasn’t been a good look.

    The Panthers were down two games and desperate to stay in the series, which necessitated an intense effort but one balanced with discipline and control.

    Didn’t happen. Or at least not at the right moments.

    Florida was again a victim of its inability to stay out of the penalty box, surrendering two power-play goals during regulation on infractions that could easily be described as unnecessary.

    The Panthers actually had a delayed man advantage coming late in the first period when the Golden Knights’ William Carrier was guilty of boarding Radko Gudas behind the net, but Gudas negated the edge when he retaliated with a cross-check to even things up at 4-on-4.

    It became a 4-on-3 situation in favor of Vegas soon after, though, when Anthony Duclair tripped Zach Whitecloud in the offensive zone. Mark Stone scored the Golden Knights’ first goal of the game 23 seconds into the subsequent power play.

    It happened again in the second period when Florida’s Aleksander Barkov was whistled for interference after cross-checking Whitecloud to the ice in front of the Vegas net at 14:13. Jonathan Marchessault scored 36 seconds later to give the Golden Knights the lead that they held until Matthew Tkachuk’s tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation.

    To be fair, the Panthers were whistled for a dubious tripping call with 11 seconds remaining in regulation and managed to kill the penalty with an additional 1:49 in OT.

    But it’s not a trend that can continue in Game 4 and beyond.

    “You can’t be selfish. They’re taking selfish penalties,” TNT analyst Wayne Gretzky said. “They’re beating themselves. It’s as simple as that.”

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