Hill comes up big in Stanley Cup Final Game 1 win

Adin Hill, playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, made 33 saves, including one for the ages in Vegas' 5-2 Game 1 win over Florida.

LAS VEGAS — Over the years, there have been several versions of “The Save” in the Stanley Cup Final. 

There was Mike Richter stopping Pavel Bure’s penalty shot in Game 4 of the Rangers’ ultimate win over the Canucks in 1994. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom in 2009 to give the Pittsburgh Penguins the Cup.

Who can forget how Brayden Holtby had robbed Alex Tuch in Game 2 of the Washington Capitals’ comeback over the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018, throwing the paddle of his stick at the puck and denying Tuch what would have been the game-winning goal.

Saturday night, Adin Hill created some history of his own, making a similar stop by Holtby in denying Nick Cousins in the second period of Game 1 as the Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers were locked (literally) in hand-to-hand combat at T-Mobile Arena. 

Cousins had Hill beaten dead to rights and appeared ready to put  the Panthers back on top after the teams traded first-period goals. But Hill managed to lean back the other way, throw out his stick and had Cousins’ shot stay out of the net. Cousins had a chance to redeem himself on the rebound only to have defenseman Alex Pietrangelo get a piece of the puck before it could cross the goal line.

“You do what you have to do in that situation,” said Hill, who stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced as the Knights scored three times in the third period to beat the Panthers 5-2 and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 Final. “I flew across and saw (Matthew Tkachuk) throw it back door so I reached back and was able to get it with my paddle, so it felt good.”

Game 2 is Monday night.

“That was an incredible save at a critical time,” said captain Mark Stone, who scored an amazing goal in the third period as he knocked a clearing pass down with his stick, managed to get the puck on his blade and beat Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 4-2. “He’s been making huge saves ever since the Edmonton series and that save got the bench excited.”

The Panthers challenged the goal, claiming Stone knocked down the puck with a high stick. But the goal counted and less than five minutes later, Reilly Smith put the capper on things with an empty-net goal.

Hill, who was acquired by Vegas just prior to training camp after it was learned that Robin Lehner and Laurent Brossoit would not be available to start the season, is 8-3 in the playoffs after Brossoit was injured against the Oilers in Game 3 on May 8.

“He’s been tremendous,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said of Hill, who was given a huge ovation in the pregame introductions by the sellout crowd of 18,432 and heard his name “Adin! Adin!” chanted after he had stopped Cousins. “He’s been making huge saves ever since the Edmonton series.”

Hill, who had mixed it up with Cousins in the first period when the two former Arizona Coyotes got engaged in Hill’s crease. He was having none of Cousins’ shenanigans and Hill cuffed the Panthers center in the face with his glove.

“If guys are going to come into the crease and try and push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said of his confrontation with Cousins. “I’m not going to do anything crazy but I’m going to stand up for myself.”

Hill said he remembers Holtby denying Tuch in 2018 and was honored to be mentioned in a similar vein.

“That was a big save and it obviously helped the Capitals go on to win the StanleyCup,” he said. 

Whether Hill’s stop in Game 1 leads to a similar result, he can only hope.

“It feels awesome,” Hill said of getting the win in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance. “You dream of playing in a Stanley Cup Final, so you take a step back and realize that we’re here.

“It’s just one game. There’s still a lot of work to do. But I thought we played a great game tonight, so it’s just rinse-and-repeat.”

There were so many impressive things about Vegas’ Game 1 win. It wasn’t just Hill slamming the door on the Panthers and outplaying Bobrovsky, who had been virtually unbeatable since getting back in the net for Game 2 against Boston in the opening round. It was the Knights getting contributions throughout the lineup, including goals from defensemen Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud, the latter who had a great third period that included heavy hits on Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov before he took Ivan Barbashev’s pass and beat Bobrovsky from inside the blue line for what was the game-winner.

And when the Panthers resorted to some roughhouse tactics, the Knights responded the right way. They didn’t back down nor did they escalate matters to the point where it hurt them.

And when the Panthers tied it 2-2 with 11 seconds remaining in the second period, that veteran experience came to the fore. There was no panic in the dressing room. No anger or things being thrown. Just settle down, regroup and go out and win the third period.

“I’d rather give one up late in the second than early in the third,” Cassidy said. “But our guys don’t get rattled. They just keep playing our game.”

As Stone said: “We don’t change anything. We stick with the system. We just keep going.”

And with a hot goalie who has learned to forget about letting in a goal and move on to the next play, the Knights are off to a good start in a position battle few expecting them to be better in. Hill denied Sam Reinhart on a third-period breakaway which would’ve pulled Florida within one. Moments later, Smith’s empty netter sealed the deal in Game 1.

“You play hundreds of games, you learn not to let one that gets by you bother you,” Hill said. “You just move on and get ready for the next play.”

For Florida, the goal hasn’t changed — win one game in Vegas, take home ice away from the Knights and then take care of business at FLA Live Arena when the series switches to Sunrise Thursday night.

“There were some things we could’ve done a little better,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ll learn as we go.

Both goalies made big saves. It turned on the turnover (that led to Whitecloud’s goal). It’s one game. Everybody breathe.”

Good idea. We all need to catch our breath after what transpired Saturday night on the Strip.