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Panthers upend Oilers 4-1, lead Stanley Cup final 2-0

Oilers go home in 0-2 hole

If the Oilers are to win the Stanley Cup, they are going to have to do it in a very hard way.

They fell into an 0-2 hole in the final with a 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Monday at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Fla., west of Fort Lauderdale near the Everglades.

Evan Rodrigues scored the winner for Florida when he snapped a shot over Stuart Skinner from 37 feet out with 16:49 to go in the third period. It was the second goal in as many games and fifth of the postseason for Rodrigues. He also scored with 7:49 remaining on a power play.

That ended a streak of 33 straight penalty kills by the Oilers.

Aaron Ekblad added an empty netter with 2:28 left. Soon after, fans began to chant, “We want the Cup.”

The Panthers, who entered the league in 1993, need just two more victories to secure their first Stanley Cup title.

Sergei Bobrovsky was not as busy in the net as he was in Game 1 but came up big when tested. He finished with 18 saves.

Historically speaking, teams that go up 2-0 in the final have won 49 of 54 series.

Each team will fly six hours nonstop to northern Alberta on Tuesday. The 4,089 kilometres between Sunrise and Edmonton is the longest distance between opposing cities in Stanley Cup history.

Games 3 and 4 will be played at Rogers Place on Thursday and Saturday.

In Game 1, Florida was held to its fewest shots on goal (18) during the 2024 playoffs. This time it was Edmonton that found it difficult to get at the net.

The Oilers did not register their first shot until 8:43 remaining in the first period but it was a really good one.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, defenceman Mattias Ekholm fired a wrist shot that squirted through Sergei Bobrevsky’s legs. The goal came with an assist from Connor McDavid. Earlier Edmonton’s Warren Foegele had been assessed a five-minute major and ejected for kneeing Eetu Luostarinen, but that infraction was negated by a penalty on the Panthers.

The score was the sixth of the postseason for Ekholm, and the assist increased McDavid’s points in the playoffs to a league-high 32.

The first 20 minutes ended with Florida holding a 9-4 shot advantage. The Oilers killed off two penalties to bring them to 32 in a row since Game 3 of Round 2 against Vancouver. About eight minutes into the contest Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse went to the locker room with an apparent hip injury. He did not return and finished up with less than three minutes of ice time.

Florida began the second period on a power play called late in the first but failed to score. That was the Oilers’ 33rd straight kill.

The Panthers then ied it in the second at 1-1 when defenceman Niko Mikkola snapped one past Stuart Skinner from a long way out with 9:34 remaining. It was the Finn’s second goal in 19 postseason appearances.

Edmonton came close to re-taking the lead but a wrist shot by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins banged off the crossbar with four minutes to go before the second intermission. After 40 minutes, Florida had 22 shots and the Oilers had just seven.

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch made one significant change to his lineup when he scratched veteran defenceman Cody Ceci and replaced him with the 6-foot-7 Vincent Desharnais.

Ceci played in 79 regular-season games and all 19 previous playoff games and has never been a healthy scratch in three seasons with the Oilers. The 30-year-old was on the ice on Saturday when the Panthers scored two goals in a 3-0 victory.

Desharnais sat out the four previous games.

“We have great depth,” Connor McDavid, the Oilers captain, said. “There are going to be lineup changes. Kris and the coaching staff have made different decisions here along the way and everyone has done a great job of stepping in and contributing.

“It is unfortunate when guys don’t get to play some games but everyone is pulling the rope here. Everybody understands where we are at.”

In the third round Knoblauch benched starting goalie Stuart Skinner for two games and has moved different forwards out of the lineup.

“It’s not easy for me to tell Cody he is not going to play,” Knoblauch said early in the day. “He has been a big part of our team and has played very well. We’ve had these difficult decisions with other players throughout the playoffs.”

McDavid has 17 points following a loss in these playoffs, among the highest totals in league history. The three-time winner of the Hart Trophy has not gone more than one game without getting at least one point in these playoffs.

Bobrovsky allowed six goals in a Round 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning but has allowed two or fewer now in 12 of the last 13 postseason games. In the last five he has only given up six goals.k-to-back shutouts.

McDavid and the Oilers had made a habit of rebounding from a loss in the 2024 playoffs but could not do so on Monday. McDavid broke loose on a break-away with 5:53 remaining that would have cut the margin to 3-2 but Bobrovsky stymied him.

Ekblad then got the empty-netter with Skinner pulled for an extra attacker. Skinner stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced.

So far Edmonton has taken 50 shots in two games and scored once, and its task keeps getting bigger.

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