Accustomed to playing with injuries, Panthers prepare for Game 5

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Florida Panthers took the ice for Monday’s practice without several key players, most notably Matthew Tkachuk.

The Panthers also were seemingly without any concern as they prepare for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, down 3-1 in the series.

“We haven’t been healthy all year,” said Florida forward Anthony Duclair, who left Game 4 briefly, and practiced Monday. “So I mean, to be honest, a lot of people have stepped up in the right moments all season long and done a great job and that’s why we’re here in this position right now.

“We’re all very confident, and whoever is playing we know we got a lot of depth on this team, we got a lot of confidence. We showed that in the first round, and I think that’s definitely gonna help us confidence-wise going into tomorrow.”

That was the common theme in the Panthers’ locker room after practice, hanging their hats on overcoming a 3-1 series deficit in the opening round against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

“Everyone’s in a really good mood and seems pretty light, so that’s nice to see,” Panthers center Sam Bennett said. “A lot of it comes from that Boston series. We know we’ve done it before and we’re capable. So just that experience in the past definitely gives us that confidence.”

This time, however, it’ll take a lot more than hockey’s so-called “puck luck” in what’s been a hard-hitting, physically challenging, brawl-filled series.

And with Tkachuk ailing, Duclair coming off a game his shifts were limited down the stretch, Brandon Montour and Nick Cousins also taking Monday off, and the relatively healthy Golden Knights eager to wrap things up in their own barn, it’ll take a Herculean effort from coach Paul Maurice’s bunch.

Maurice ran down a laundry list of situations the Panthers have faced all season, missing different players at different times, and said preparations for a game like this started months ago.

“You’ve had your people out of the lineup and important people out of the lineup and you found ways to be successful, so you have that belief. If none of that’s happened to you all year, the first time an important guy comes out of the lineup it’s a big deal,“ Maurice said.

“But being that everybody’s playing tomorrow, as of today, we don’t have to worry about that,” he added with his trademark smirk.

But facing the high-octane Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena won’t be a laughing matter.

They outscored Florida in Games 1 and 2 by a combined 12-4 margin and rank second in the playoffs with 3.82 goals per home game, a slight uptick from the 3.20 the Knights averaged in Vegas during the regular season.

Tkachuk is tied for the playoff lead in points with Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault, each with 24. But while the Panthers only have one skater with more than 17 points during the postseason, the Knights have four.

The key intangible for the Panthers could come down to goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who went from allowing two or fewer goals in eight consecutive playoff games to allowing 16 over his last five — a goals-against average of 3.57.

With the Panthers sporting a 3-0 record in elimination games this postseason – all in the Boston series – they’re confident in their veteran netminder but also know whoever is skating in front of him must do their part.

“I think Bob’s been unreal for us the whole playoffs,” Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling said. He saved us a bunch of times, so I think we need to play a little better around him, help him out a little bit more.”

Added Panthers center Staal: “We won some key games at key times with important pieces out of our lineup. So however we look tomorrow, I know we’ll have confidence in who we are and the guys that are out there.”


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