06/08 22:41 CDT Florida back in Stanley Cup Final after taking advantage of
matchups at home vs. Vegas
Florida back in Stanley Cup Final after taking advantage of matchups at home
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) --- Before the puck dropped Thursday night for Game 3 of the
Stanley Cup Final, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice tipped his hand, at
least a little bit.
For the first time since the second round of the playoffs, Matthew Tkachuk's
line alongside Sam Bennett and Nick Cousins did not start. Vegas Golden Knights
coach Bruce Cassidy already tabbed his shutdown trio of William Carrier,
Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar to open the game --- the line that had shut down
Tkachuk and Bennett so far.
Despite saying earlier Thursday he "didn't feel it was a matchup series,"
Maurice abandoned his starting lineup for 11 games in a row in search of the
best possible matchups to try to turn around the final. It took Tkachuk's tying
goal and Carter Verhaeghe's overtime winner, but it paid dividends in Florida
getting right back in the series.
Each of the Panthers' goals in regulation came with the players on the ice
Maurice wanted: Tkachuk and Co. against Vegas' second line of captain Mark
Stone, center Chandler Stephenson and depth forward Brett Howden. That offense
from defenseman Brandon Montour early in the first period and then Tkachuk late
in the third was enough to offset two Vegas power-play goals resulting from
eight Florida penalties.
Then Verhaeghe's goal --- also against Stone, Stephenson and Howden ---
finished off the 3-2 comeback victory.
The Panthers for stretches outplayed the Golden Knights at even strength, able
to get churning on their relentless attack that got them through the Eastern
Conference and put opponents on their heels.
Much as Cassidy pushed all the right buttons in the first two games of the
series his team won, Maurice found a winning recipe to make the final 2-1.
There's little doubt Vegas is a deeper team and more talented, something that
has been on display much of the season with a first-place finish in the West
and then into the playoffs.
But the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes all looked
better on paper than the Panthers, who kept finding ways to win. While some of
that is Tkachuk and also goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was brilliant again
Thursday night bouncing back from being pulled in Game 2, Maurice deserves
credit for making decisions that led to the ideal matchups --- and made the Cup
Final finally look competitive.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and