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Knights look to salvage road trip with win in Stanley Cup rematch

Updated December 22, 2023 - 5:52 pm

The stakes will not be quite as high for the Golden Knights on Saturday as the last time they visited Sunrise, Florida.

But there still will be plenty on the line when they play their final game before the Christmas break against the Panthers, who lost to the Knights in five games in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

“This team is very professional in their approach and realize we haven’t got any points out of this trip,” coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday of back-to-back losses at Carolina and Tampa Bay. “This is our last chance, so let’s make sure we don’t mess that part up.”

The Knights would love to play a similar game to their last visit, when Chandler Stephenson scored two early goals in a 3-2 Game 4 victory over the Panthers in June to put the Knights one win from securing the Stanley Cup.

Cassidy said he discussed those memories with his team during Friday morning’s practice session at the arena.

“It’s good to be back,” Cassidy said. “I just remember enjoying our time here. We had a tough Game 3 where we played well enough to win, and we regrouped, I remember, on our day off and got back to business. Obviously we didn’t win the Cup here, but we left feeling pretty good about ourselves because we were only one win away.”

One player will have a new memory from this visit. Defenseman Ben Hutton agreed to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $975,000, the team announced Friday.

Hutton, 30, has a goal and seven assists in 28 games this season. He has 29 points in 117 games with the Knights.

Hutton appeared in two playoff games last season but did not play in the finals. He has found an expanded role this season, largely out of necessity as the Knights continue to deal with blueline injuries.

The absence of Shea Theodore has been particularly noticeable on special teams, as an area that had been a strength has become a point of concern, particularly in the first two games of this trip.

The Knights have lost consecutive games in regulation for just the second time this season. And the final game won’t be any easier, as Florida (18-12-2) is the third probable Eastern Conference playoff team they will play on the road over five days.

“This whole trip to me is about good hockey teams who have had recent success in the east,” Cassidy said.

He knows the holiday break won’t be quite as merry if the Knights have to sit around the tree sulking over three straight losses, so he wants to see his team get back on track. But he also knows the Panthers want a small measure of revenge.

“When you go into a holiday break, I think the road team always has a bit of an advantage because they know they still have to get home, while sometimes the home team looks ahead (to being with their families),” Cassidy said. “In this case, I think that goes out the window considering what happened last year. I think Florida will want to make a statement that they’re still a really good team.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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