Paul Maurice said the Florida Panthers felt “strong” heading home for the next two games despite being down 2-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Panthers, who were outscored by a combined 12-4 in losing the first two games of the best-of-7 series, hosts Game 3 at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Thursday (8 pm ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“We feel that our best hockey is still ahead of us,” the Panthers coach said Tuesday. “We feel that we certainly haven’t controlled the game at times, but in the first game we didn’t feel it was controlled against us either; there was about a five-minute block in the second period after we’d taken a penalty that they spent some time in our end and got rolling around.
“So, much of our perceptions are crowd reactions. So, if you take that offensive zone [time] or (Carter) Verhaeghe’s breakaway and put that in our building and we’re on it, we’re feeling good. So, we’re excited to get home, we clearly have to be strong at home and we’re prepared to be.”
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Teams that took a 2-0 lead in a best-of-7 Cup Final have gone on to win the series 90.6 percent of the time (48-5), including 92.7 percent when they won the first two games at home (38- 3).
Florida is 4-3 at home in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It lost two games at FLA Live Arena in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Boston Bruins before going on to win the series in seven games, and lost Game 4 in the second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs on route to winning the series in five . The Panthers won both games at home in the conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes to complete the four-game sweep.
But Florida can take some comfort in being down two games in the first round before coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to shock the Bruins, who won the Presidents’ Trophy with the best regular season record in the NHL (65-12- 5), setting a season record for wins and points (135).
Florida had not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs since losing Games 3 and 4 in the first round against Boston.
The Panthers fell behind 4-0 in Game 2 of the Final with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky pulled at 7:10 of the second period following a goal from Brett Howden and replaced by Alex Lyons. Bobrovsky gave up four goals on 13 shots but is expected to start Game 3.
“This isn’t a fatigue thing, we’d been off the ice for a block [nine days] and he was very good in Game 1,” Maurice said. “I thought Sergei was like our team, I thought we were just slightly off it. We didn’t give him a chance and he didn’t, maybe, quiet the game early for us when we needed it quieted by the goaltender. But I have complete faith in what he’ll be able to do in Game 3.”
In order to get back in the series, the Panthers will have to do a better job defending against the rush at home.
“Their rush game is elite for sure, but we’ve faced other teams like that,” Maurice said. “We put ourselves in a position having to handle the rush where we’ve had to give up more ice that we’ve wanted to give. Some of it is based on their speed, they’re going to get those chances and some if it is just our positioning.”
Video: What to expect from Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final
Game 1 was tied 2-2 in the third period before the Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud scored at 6:59 of the third period to give Vegas a 3-2 lead. Mark Stone made it 4-2, and Reilly Smith scored into an empty net with Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker for the 5-2 final.
“I’m going to separate both games because they were both different for me,” Maurice said. “I thought the first game was pretty even in terms of what we gave off the rush to what we got off the rush, it was fairly flat with that. Last night, clearly, they got on us off the rush, and because we were in a deficit by the time they crossed the [red] line, we had a hard time containing and killing those who played in the [defensive] zone. So, that will be a focus for us for sure.”
Maurice did not have an update on defenseman Radko Gudaswho sustained an undisclosed injury after taking a hit from the Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev in the first period of Game 2.
The Panthers may also be without forward Eetu Luostarinenwho had a lower-body injury and missed the first two games of the Final.
“He’s been on the ice [practicing],” Maurice said. “But he’s not ready to play yet.”