No surprises in Stanley Cup Game 1

Marc Elliott

Panther forward Anthony Duclair scores against the VGK in the SC Final G1

LAKESIDE – Before the start of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final there was talk of how a nine-day wait between games would work out for the Eastern Champion Florida Panthers. The Western Champion Vegas Golden Knights also had time off before the series start on Saturday, but for only four days. So there was some mini-discussion as to how much time off is acceptable and how much isn't.

Judging by the variety of opinions about this on media day I can only conclude that it simply boils down to the players involved. At this point in the season you are going to be dinged up somewhere on your body. It's as guaranteed as night and day. Rest is good for that. Some players require more "rest" than others.

OK, I understand that too. The coaches involved, Vegas' Butch Cassidy and the Panther's Paul Maurice, would have preferred to keep right on playing to maintain whatever momentum they had built. But both know that isn't how it works.

So game time arrived on Saturday eve and the rest issue got put on the shelf. Injuries are another matter but may not be a factor as the series started. FLA is only dealing with one to Patric Hornqvist and that is a concussion issue.

With Patric being near career’s end it is speculated that this will force his retirement. Vegas has a couple of goalie injuries they are dealing with. Laurent Brossoit (LBI) was injured in the EDM series, and Logan Thompson (undisclosed) has been on the shelf since mid-March. Adin Hill has been solid in the VGK goal with two-time Cup winner Jon Quick in the backup role. Both clubs are probably about as good as they can be from that standpoint.

The teams’ playing styles have been broken down, their star players have been analyzed, and finally it was time to drop the puck. In their six seasons of existence the VGK have proven to be among the league leaders at ceremonies and entertainment.

Well, no surprise there, Vegas isn't called the entertainment capital of the world for nothing. At this point though their pre-series kickoffs have gotten a bit stale. They are all the same. For a team that has been in the tourney for five of their six-year existence, they need to pump some fresh ideas into that.

The first time I saw this it was brand new and the fans were blown away by what took place on the ice. It has devolved into the same old-same old routine. A few Knights with lots of swords pretend slaying one obstacle after another. Okee doke.

But that did mean that game time was at hand. The biscuit was dropped and the SC Final was underway. For the first few minutes there wasn't anything of note taking place. Both clubs were exchanging possessions, there was some physical play here and there but neither got any serious scoring chances. That is until the VGK went on the power play.

On an exchange in the Cat's end, FLA broke the puck out and skated it to the Knights' zone, where former Wild star Eric Staal scored a shorthanded goal on a wrap-around play. 1-0 Cats. Late in the period the VGK would tie it with a goal by Jonathan Marchessault on the PP.

When the second frame began I didn't feel either team was exhibiting any of the anticipated game "rust" but I did feel that Vegas was starting to play more aggressively. Both tenders had made at least one "show stopper" type of save, but Vegas was slowly turning the tide IMO. They would push ahead 2-1 in the middle of the period, but then the Cat's Anthony Duclair tallied with 11 seconds left in the period to knot the game at two.

At the start of the third I looked for a conservative, cautious approach from both teams. But Vegas continued to turn up the heat, and I didn't see any response from FLA that was challenging that. Vegas would go ahead at the 6:59 mark (Zach Whitecloud/GWG) followed by a Mark Stone insurance goal at 13:41.

With the game basically decided the Cats Matthew Tkachuk decided to put his own imprint on the game and it went south in a hurry. This was a factor that I considered in the back of my mind while weighing out all of the series' tactical possibilities.

With the young Tkachuk on the roster, he has a reputation for playing an aggressive, antagonistic style that can and does get into other teams' heads at times. It can backfire as well and we will find out tomorrow night if this is the case. Let's break it down. Vegas has a big team. They have a veteran team. They have a lot of skill and experience to back those things up with.

If the young Chuckie hasn't learned one thing in his career as of yet it's that he needs to learn when it's a good time to deploy this tactic and when it is better to hold off. With his club down by two and late in the game, and with chances to even the score in short supply, Chuckie decided to roll out his shift-disturber bag of tricks. For the Knights this is a team that has been around the block, they've been to the circus.

When Chuckie tried rolling out his mosquito on an elephant irritation tactics the Knights stood there and laughed at him. But he wouldn't quit. He kept up with it until the referees had no choice but to give him a game misconduct and get him off the ice.

With Lil Chuckie off for an early shower, the Knights got an ENG at 18:15 and the series stood at 1-0 for the VGK. If he had stayed in the game there would have eventually been more trouble. I guarantee it. But Vegas knew this was coming at some point and their response of no-response worked perfectly. We'll find out in G2 if the Cats will decide to abandon the tactic or notch it up. I think they need to focus on just playing better hockey than Vegas.

To me that tactic has some value when used as a response to another team's aggression against you. If you go to it too early in a game or series it only has a 50-50 chance of working for you. If you pull it out at the end of a game where you have just been thoroughly pasted it only makes you look bad and lacks the maturity of a Championship team. In this tourney if Chuckie didn't score in one game he usually did in the next. If I were him, I'd focus on that. Netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has had a solid playoff thus far. He didn't look bad last night but didn't look great either.

One of his perceived weaknesses is in how he plays shots from distance. He has a tendency to not track some of them well. In G1 the VGK scored on two shots from above the circles. That is an issue worth watching. The Cats still have a shot at a split, the Knights have a chance to grab the series and run. Who wins? PEACE