Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final happens tonight between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights. You can fill the anticipation of this series as the NHL waited until Saturday, June 3rd to drop the puck on the Stanley Cup Final. The two most complete teams are left squaring off for hockey’s ultimate prize — the Stanley Cup.
The Golden Knights are coming off four days of rest after dominating the Dallas Stars in Game 6 in the Western Conference Final. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers had 10 days off after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
There is so much on the line for both teams. For the first time since 2018 Stanley Cup Final there will be a first-time Stanley Cup Champion. If you poll the fans it feels like even split between Florida and Vegas on who will win. Though oddsmakers have Vegas, nobody will be shocked if Florida wins. It will be really interesting to see how these teams match up in Game 1. Do they take it slow and ease each other out, or will both teams try to establish their respective games early?
Let’s find here as we take a look at three keys to Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final between Vegas and Florida.
2023 Stanley Cup Final: Keys To Game 1
1. Aggressive Forecheck vs. Neutral Zone Trap
As in the preview for the Stanley Cup Final, one of the keys to focus on is the Florida aggressive forecheck against the neutral zone trap of Vegas. That is one of the things Paul Maurice implemented when he came in as bench boss as current Florida Panthers color Analyst Bill Lindsay told Jim Biringer in the recent addition of the Full Press NHL Podcast.
The Panthers went from a team that can play off the rush to a team that now plays a dump-and-chase style. We have seen the aggressive forecheck on display in the first three rounds for Florida. It is just not just being satisfied anymore. The players have learned how to play in the playoffs. Panthers players understand that it is about winning puck battles, and not giving their opponent time and space. Nobody does that better than Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, and Sam Reinhart.
However, the Panthers are going up against the 2nd best team in the league in allowing zone time. The Golden Knights have shown they can take the middle of the ice away. Just look at their domination in Games 3 and 6 against Dallas. Vegas takes away the middle of the ice so well. It is hard to get through. Vegas loves to roll four lines and they all play the same way. Not to mention their defence is so big and physical. So it will be hard for the Panthers forward to attack them and force them into mistakes.
Something will have to give in this matchup. That is why it is so interesting.
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2. Special Teams
Like most series, there will be a special teams battle that will ensue especially in Game 1. Look we know Vegas is the least penalized team in the NHL. Though their penalty kill took a beating against Edmonton, what teams wouldn’t, it will be hard for the Panthers to find power play time. But if Florida does get a power play they will have to convert on it, because they may not get another chance.
Again as Bill Lindsay notes a power play can swing momentum in a game and give a team confidence one way or another. Eventually one of these games will come down to special teams. And Florida was able to capitalize on their chances in Games 2 and 4 against Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final. Meanwhile, Vegas did not give Dallas much. And when Dallas was on the power play, the Vegas penalty kill swarmed the puck.
Again powerplays and penalty kills are so important it feels like a key to every game.
3. Scoring First
Scoring the first goal is just important for both teams, but more so for the Panthers. Again Bill Lindsay told Jim on the Full Press NHL Podcast, that if Florida scores first this will allow them to be more confident and settle into their game. Not to mention it will settle the nerves. Plus Sergei Bobrovsky plays better with a lead rather than playing from behind. So much more important for the Panthers to score first especially coming off of 10 days of rust, which Lindsay does not think will be a factor except for the first five minutes of the game.
For Vegas, when they score first the Golden Knights are a different team. We have seen the Golden Knights dominate and take over games in the first period. When Vegas wants to they can run you out of the building. We know what this offence can do in short stretches of time. Again just ask the Stars. Plus it allows Vegas to settle into their defensive system even more.
It will be interesting who scores first and sets the tone for Game 1 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.