Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

The Florida Panthers are now 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup

By meerna Jun12,2024

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl ejected Florida’s Alexander Barkov. The Panthers responded with more punch.

The Stanley Cup Final took a heated turn on Monday night.

Evan Rodrigues scored twice in the third quarter, Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad also scored, and the Panthers finished with another strong kick to defeat the Oilers 4-1 for a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for Florida, which was 1-8 all-time in Cup finals prior to this series, and is now two wins away from winning its first league title. Score points in two games: Florida 7, Edmonton 1.

“Six-man work against the best players in the world,” Ekblad said.

The victory came at a cost for Florida, however, as the Panthers lost Barkov, their captain, when Edmonton forward Draisaitl lunged at him midway through the third quarter and hit him in the head. Barkov sat out for a while, needed help getting onto the bench and headed down the tunnel to the Florida locker room for further evaluation.

Florida coach Paul Maurice provided no update on Barkov’s condition and was much tighter than usual after victories.

“This is not the Oprah Winfrey Show,” Maurice said of Barkov’s hit. “My feelings don’t matter.”

Mattias Ekholm scored a goal and Stuart Skinner stopped 25 shots for the Oilers, who now have some serious history to break.

Edmonton has only once rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, against San Jose in the second round of the 2006 playoffs. Teams that started the Stanley Cup Final trailing 2-0 had only won five times in the 54 previous occasions.

“I think we came here and played well enough that we should have made the split,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “It doesn’t always happen that way.”

The series resumes with game three in Edmonton on Thursday night.

“We can definitely be better,” Draisaitl said. “It starts with me. …I certainly have a lot more to offer. Not my best night tonight. Having it, of course.”

Draisaitl received only a minor penalty for the brutal hit that sent Barkov off the game. Rodrigues scored on a tip-in to increase the score to 3-1. It was the first power-play score Edmonton has allowed in the last 34 times after conceding a goal.

Connor McDavid had a chance to bring Edmonton within one on a breakaway with about 6 minutes left. He was intercepted by Bobrovsky, and after the play, he and Matthew Tkachuk jostled around the boards for a bit – the Panthers were still steaming after Barkov’s shot.

“I don’t have an answer or comment on that,” Tkachuk replied when asked what he thought about Draisaitl’s hit on Barkov and whether he had any concern that Florida’s captain might miss time.

McDavid said of the hit: “I thought it was part of the game.”

And Ekblad added: “We hope he’ll be fine.”

Emotions were high all night long. Edmonton’s Warren Foegele was ejected from the game in the first quarter after suffering a knee-to-knee injury that briefly knocked Florida’s Eetu Luostarinen out of the game; that ejection and the injury to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse meant that only 11 forwards and five defensemen played for most of the game.

Rodrigues scored early in the third period off a turnover for a 2-1 lead, setting the tone for another Florida comeback. The Panthers, who trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes, are currently an NHL-best 5-2, trailing after one period in these playoffs.

Ekblad sealed the loss with an empty-netter with 2:28 left.

“It should be difficult. It should be difficult,” McDavid said. “I’m excited to see what our group is made of.”

Just like in the first game, one team cashed in on their first shot. Saturday was Florida and this time it was Edmonton.

It was no big deal: Ekholm skated almost the entire length of the ice with the teams playing 4-on-4, and his harmless shot went between Bobrovsky’s pads and into the net. McDavid — playing in the building where he was drafted in 2015 — had one of the assists on the goal, his 27th assist of the postseason.

The Panthers equalized midway through the second minute. Mikkola fired two shots in rotation; one hit the wrong net, and the other more than atoned for that near-mistake.

Moments after inadvertently sending a backhand to Bobrowski, who was alert enough to save his teammate from an own-goal embarrassment, Mikkola took a pass from Anton Lundell and passed Skinner, tying Florida 1-1.

“Bob didn’t sleep,” Mikkola said.

After 40 minutes, Florida was 22-7, and the Oilers – who led the league in shots on goal this season – maintained their season low, moving into third place. Bobrovsky was tested much more in the third quarter than in the first two periods, but he rose to the occasion again and scored two goals or fewer for the 12th time in the last 13 games.

And Florida has two Cup wins for the first time.

“It’s special,” Rodrigues said. “I’m trying to get my head around it. I try to stay in the moment. These are two big wins for our team, but I think we have already turned the page and are preparing for the third game.

For more Stanley Cup news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, visit our archive.

By meerna

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