Livescore Thursday, April 25
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Every second felt like an eternity to Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, every breath a gasp of hope infused with fear as he sat in the penalty box at FLA Live Arena and hoped his teammates would preserve their one-goal lead over the desperately pressing Florida Panthers.

Already down a man after Florida replaced goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with an extra skater, the Golden Knights gave the Panthers a six-on-four advantage with 17.4 seconds left in the third period Saturday after Pietrangelo shot the puck over the glass, an automatic minor penalty for delay of game. “That’s painful,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s a tough way to take a penalty at the end of the game.

“Sometimes guys have got to dig a little deeper and kill those 17 seconds, so you’ve got to be proud of that effort. I had trust that we were going to get it done.”

The Golden Knights needed extraordinary shot-blocking by Zach Whitecloud and a sharp save by goalie Adin Hill in those chaotic final seconds but held on for a 3-2 victory, which gave them a 3-1 lead over the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final. They can win the franchise’s first championship Tuesday, when the Final shifts back to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“It’s awesome,” Vegas forward Nicolas Roy said of his team’s position. “That was a battle till the last second tonight.”

The battle didn’t end when the clock ran down: Players pushed and shoved and grappled with one another at the buzzer. Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk, who played sparingly in the third period because of an undisclosed injury, was on the ice at the end and got a misconduct and two minor penalties at the 20-minute mark.

“I was able to go out there at the end and try to make some magic happen late, but we ran out of time,” Tkachuk said. “We came up probably a second short.”

All the hostilities didn’t change the fact that the Golden Knights, who capitalized on generous expansion rules to build a team that went to the Final but lost to Washington in their inaugural season of 2017-18, are in position to claim the Cup on Tuesday.

“It’s sunk in a bit,” Hill said, then changed his mind. “I guess not really,” he said, smiling. “It’s hard for it to sink in. We’ve got to stick to what we’ve been doing and get ready for the next one Tuesday.”

The Golden Knights, who lost Game 3 in overtime on Thursday, stayed true to their reputation of being able to shrug off losses and rebound with strong efforts.

They were dominant in the early going Saturday and scored 1 minute 39 seconds into the first period.

Whitecloud, one of Vegas’ big but mobile defensemen, gathered the puck in the neutral zone and spied Chandler Stephenson streaking up the middle. Whitecloud fed him a perfect pass that put Stephenson behind Florida’s defense. Stephenson, who was a member of the Washington Capitals team that defeated Vegas in the 2018 Final, skated in a few strides before flicking a low shot that caught the inside of Bobrovsky’s left leg and bounced behind him into the net.

Accustomed to seeing their team face adversity since the Panthers had rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Boston in the first round, fans at FLA Live Arena were lively and energetic. Feeding off that, the Panthers pushed back earnestly but couldn’t get anything past Hill in the penalty-free first period.

Stephenson doubled Vegas’ lead at 7:28 of the second period, taking a pass from Mark Stone — who was on the left-wing boards — and stepping into a long shot that eluded Bobrovsky on the goalie’s glove side. The air seemed to be sucked out of the arena, but the Golden Knights weren’t done.

Former Duck William Karlsson (known as Wild Bill in his younger days because he was the complete opposite of wild) jabbed home the rebound of a shot by Nicolas Hague at 11:04 to give Vegas a 3-0 lead, silencing the crowd except for the cheers of a few scattered Golden Knights fans.

The Panthers got one back at 16:09 of the second period on a pair of fortunate bounces. Former Duck Brandon Montour’s shot from the right side caromed off both Vegas defensemen — first former King Brayden McNabb and then off the right leg of former Duck Shea Theodore — before getting past Hill, giving the Panthers and their fans hope they could again stage a comeback, as they had done to tie Game 3 late in the third and win in overtime.

The fearless Panthers continued to battle, getting rewarded when Aleksander Barkov scored from the near edge of the right circle at 3:50 of the third period.

“They pushed back there. We knew they would,” Roy said. “They’ve been doing it all series.”

The Panthers created chaos around Vegas’ net several times after that but couldn’t pull even. “It was definitely an unfortunate loss, but we’ve been in this position before,” Bobrovsky said. “It all comes down to one moment at a time, one period at a time.”

For the Golden Knights, it came down to 17 frantic seconds Saturday.

“It was pretty wild,” Hill said. “At that point all five of us on the ice were trying to make sure we were doing anything we can to keep the puck out of the net. You’ve just got to do whatever it takes in that moment.”

The Stanley Cup will be in T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday, shined and ready to be hoisted by the Golden Knights. “You can’t not think about it. It’s the ultimate goal in hockey,” Hill said. And they got closer to that goal because they held on through those frantic final seconds on Saturday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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