The Vegas Golden Knights are going back to Sin City with a chance to clinch the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Golden Knights held off a late Florida Panthers rally to win Game 4, 3-2.
Vegas got going early when Chandler Stephenson scored just 1:39 into the game, and he scored again in the second period to double the lead. Not bad for a guy who was on the ice for three goals against in Game 3. By the time William Karlsson gave the Golden Knights a 3-0 lead midway through the game, it looked like the Panthers were going to get blown out.
The first two periods were all Vegas, and Florida needed some help to get back into the game. The hockey gods gave it to them late in the second period when Brandon Montour's shot kicked off two Golden Knights and into the net late in the period. That gave them some life, and Aleksander Barkov scored early in the third period to send FLA Live Arena into a frenzy.
Fortunately for the Golden Knights, that was as close as the Panthers would get. Florida threw everything and the kitchen sink at Adin Hill in the third period, but it couldn't net the game-tying goal. Hill made some huge saves to keep the Golden Knights ahead, including a brilliant pad save on Matthew Tkachuk with just one second remaining.
Vegas survived a chaotic ending, and it now has a 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Las Vegas. The Panthers have already come back from that exact deficit in these playoffs, but doing it against this Golden Knights team will be an incredibly tall task.
Chandler Stephenson bounces back
Chandler Stephenson did not play his best game in the Golden Knights' Game 3 loss. Vegas controlled just 26.9% of the shot attempts, 30.8% of the scoring chances and 45.6% of the expected goals with him on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick.
To top it all off, Stephenson was on the ice for all three of the Panthers' goals. He needed to rebound in Game 4, and he did just that with perhaps his best game of the playoffs.
It didn't take long for Stephenson to redeem himself. Just under two minutes into the game, the Panthers took a bad line change, and Stephenson broke in on Sergei Bobrovsky untouched. Stephenson got Bobrovsky sliding side to side, and he simply tucked the puck in the five hole.
In the second period, Stephenson struck again. This time, he took a beautiful feed from Mark Stone and deposited his shot off the post and into the back of the net.
The underlying numbers also told a very different story on Saturday night. The Golden Knights dominated with Stephenson in the game at five-on-five. Vegas controlled 73.7% of the scoring chances and 69.3% of the expected goals in those situations. This was an unbelievable bounce back performance from Stephenson, who put his team up 3-1 in the series.
King of the Hill
Anyone who has been waiting on Adin Hill to hit a wall in these playoffs can keep on waiting. He played another spectacular game on Saturday, and he has the Golden Knights just one win away from a Stanley Cup.
Hill stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced tonight, and he allowed just two goals on 2.48 expected goals against, per Natural Stat Trick. Hill has frustrated the Panthers for most of this series, and Matthew Tkachuk has commonly been victimized in Hill's string of robberies.
In the first period, Hill made an excellent save when Tkachuk dug the puck out of a pile in the slot and had a clean look at the net, but that was not his finest stop of the night. As time expired in the third period, Tkachuk got the puck in the slot again. Hill was down and out, but he was still able to get a pad on it and keep it out of the cage.
Hill is one quality start away from hoisting the Stanley Cup -- and maybe winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. What a run from a goaltender who was somewhat of an afterthought coming into the playoffs.
If not Tkachuk, then who?
It's clear that Matthew Tkachuk is battling an injury. In Game 4, Tkachuk wasn't as effective as he normally is, and Panthers coach Paul Maurice used him very sparingly in the third period.
Tkachuk is the engine that drives the Panthers, and he has shouldered much of the burden for them throughout this playoff run. He has four game-winning goals, and he scored the game-tying goal with under three minutes left in Game 3. If he isn't fully healthy, Florida needs to get its production from elsewhere.
The Golden Knights' depth has been firing on all cylinders, but the same cannot be said for the Panthers. Florida has relied on its big guns to win games, and that has worked to this point. The issue is that the Panthers are facing elimination, and they desperately need their bottom six to chip in more if they're going to stay alive.
Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Montour both tallied two points in Game 4, but they will need some more help to win Game 5 in Las Vegas. Sam Reinhart, Nick Cousins, Sam Bennett and Aaron Ekblad have been relatively quiet in the Stanley Cup Final. They need to make some noise on Tuesday night to force a Game 6 in Florida.