Panthers 2 wins from Stanley Cup, top Oilers 4-1 for 2-0 lead in title series

Game 3 goes in Edmonton on Thursday night
web1_20240610230620-6667c280a89ed939dceab94ajpeg
Edmonton Oilers right wing Connor Brown (28) waits for the puck during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers, Monday, June 10, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Evan Rodrigues had two goals in the third period, Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad also scored and the Florida Panthers beat the visiting Edmonton Oilers 4-1 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for Florida, which was 1-8 all-time in Cup final games before this series started — and now is two wins away from capturing its first championship.

But the win came with a price for Florida as the Panthers lost captain Aleksander Barkov when Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl launched toward him midway through the third period and hit him in the head. Barkov remained down for some time, needed help getting to the bench and went down the tunnel for the Florida locker room for further evaluation.

Mattias Ekholm scored and Stuart Skinner stopped 24 shots for the Oilers, who now have to buck some serious history.

Edmonton has only successfully rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series once — against San Jose in Round 2 of the 2006 playoffs. And teams that start the Stanley Cup Final down 2-0 have come back to win only five times in 54 previous situations.

The series resumes with Game 3 in Edmonton on Thursday night.

Draisaitl was given only a minor penalty for roughing on the hit that knocked Barkov from the game. Rodrigues got a tip-in goal to make it 3-1, the first power-play score Edmonton allowed in its last 34 times being down a man.

Connor McDavid had a chance to get Edmonton within one on a breakaway with about 6 minutes left. He got stopped by Bobrovsky, and then he and Matthew Tkachuk tussled a bit along the boards after the play — the Panthers still steaming over the hit on Barkov.

Emotions were high all night. Edmonton’s Warren Foegele was ejected in the first period for a knee-on-knee hit that knocked Florida’s Eetu Luostarinen from the game briefly; that ejection, plus an injury to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse left them with only 11 forwards and five defensemen for much of the game.

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

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

Just like Game 1, one team cashed in on its first shot. It was Florida on Saturday, and Edmonton this time.

There wasn’t much to it: Ekholm skated nearly the full length of the ice with the teams playing 4-on-4, taking a harmless-looking shot that got between Bobrovsky’s leg pads and squirted into the back of the net. McDavid — playing in the building where he got drafted in 2015 — got one of the assists on the goal, his 27th assist of this postseason.

Midway through the second, the Panthers knotted it up. Mikkola had two shots on a shift; one was at the wrong net, and the other more than atoned for that near-blunder.

READ MORE: Bobrovsky makes 32 saves, Panthers blank Oilers 3-0 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup final

Moments after he inadvertently wheeled a backhand toward Bobrovsky — who was alert enough to save his teammate from the embarrassment of an own goal — Mikkola handled a delivery from Anton Lundell and blasted it past Skinner to pull Florida into a 1-1 tie.

Shots were 22-7 Florida after 40 minutes, the Oilers — who led the league in shots on goal this season — being held to a season-low entering the third. Bobrovsky was tested a ton more in the third than he was in the first two periods, but was up to the task again.

And Florida, for the first time, is two wins from the Cup.

AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press