LAS VEGAS -- The Florida Panthers have an answer for why Sergei Bobrovsky allowed four goals and was pulled early in their 7-2 defeat Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Their response? It's not Bobrovsky's fault that the Golden Knights have a 2-0 series lead. It's on the rest of the team.
Bobrovsky was pulled a little more than seven minutes into the second period after allowing four goals on 13 shots. It's the second consecutive game in which Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy recipient, allowed four goals with the biggest difference in Game 1 being the Golden Knights needed 33 shots throughout an entire 60-minute session to reach that mark.
"He's been our best player all playoffs," Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. "We have total belief in him. We have to do a better job helping him out and not give up so many grade-A chances on him. But yeah, there's no issue there. We have the utmost confidence in him."
It's the fourth time this postseason an opponent has found a way to score more than four goals against Bobrovsky. The Boston Bruins did it twice in the first round only to watch the Panthers rally to ultimately win the series after falling into a 3-1 series deficit.
Even then? It's not like the Golden Knights exclusively found success against Bobrovsky. They also scored three times against his replacement, Alex Lyon, with Lyon allowing three goals on 15 shots in relief of Bobrovsky.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice explained how his team must be better about not shielding Bobrovsky, a detail that proved to be an issue Monday. Jonathan Marchessault scored the power-play goal that gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with 12:55 remaining in the first period. But it was captain Mark Stone who shielded Bobrovsky on the goal.
Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez's wrist shot from the left faceoff circle doubled the lead to 2-0 with 2:01 left in the first. But it was Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura who impaired Bobrovsky's site by shielding his goaltender on Martinez's shot.
Bobrovsky had two of his teammates in front of him in an attempt to take away space from Nicolas Roy before he pushed the lead to 3-0 with 17:01 in the second period. There was no screen but just a deft cross-ice pass that Stone played to find an unmarked Brett Howden, who skated in on net and went forehand to backhand to beat Bobrovsky for a 4-0 lead with 12:50 left in the game.
"Of course, we want to help Bob. He's been our best player and a huge part of our team," Panthers forward Anton Lundell said. "We can always trust him. But we need to help him more. We need to play better defense and we can't let too many chances for him."
It also appeared to happen to Lyon when Howden scored his second goal on a power-play opportunity that gave the Knights a 7-2 edge.
"If we're going to be there, you gotta block them," Maurice said about the screens that were set in front of Bobrovsky. "We gotta get in front of those shots. We're working at it. We're trying. But we're about three inches off those shots."
Maurice was also asked about what he could do in Game 3 regarding Bobrovsky, who was not made available to reporters after the game.
"We'll sweat about that for the next two days," Maurice said. "We can be a little better in front of our goaltender. He's been unbelievable for us, so I got him out to keep him rested."
While the screens were an issue, so was the fact the Panthers struggled to capitalize on the scoring chances they did have against the Golden Knights. Natural Stat Trick's data reveals the Panthers had a combined second-and third-period shot-share of more than 66 percent which means the Panthers were controlling possession in 5-on-5 play.
They finished with seven more scoring chances in 5-on-5 play than the Golden Knights while having 13 high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Panthers also had the same number of power-play chances as the Knights -- four -- but could not score whereas two of the Golden Knights goals came with the extra-skater advantage.
"Sometimes, that happens," Bennett said. "You get a lot of chances. You can't find a way to put it in and they went down and capitalized. Sometimes, that happens in games. Right now, you've got to regroup."
Between the goals they allowed and the goals they did not score, the Panthers now face a number of questions ahead of Game 3 on Thursday at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida.
Mounting a comeback in a series is one of the hallmarks the Panthers have used to reach the Cup Final. That detail could prove useful considering the Golden Knights held a 3-0 lead over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final before the Stars won the next two contests before losing in six games.
Seeing Bobrovsky depart early, however, was also a reminder of another trend that has come to define the Golden Knights in the postseason. Monday was the fourth time that the Golden Knights have forced a starting goalie into an early exit. They did twice in the second round to Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner in the Western Conference semifinal round and once to Stars goalie Jake Oettinger in the Western Conference Final.
It was also the third game in a row and the eighth game overall this postseason in which they have scored more than five goals in a single contest.
"We have full belief in our team to come back," Bennett said. "One thing, I guarantee this team is not going to quit. We haven't all year. We have full belief that we're going to come back and all we gotta do is one game. So, it's one game at a time and it's all we gotta worry about."