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Grades, takeaways after Game 2 of the Cup Final

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Tuesday, 11 June 2024 00:05

Following the Florida Panthers' 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, many believed the Oilers would come out strong to start Game 2. They did, with Mattias Ekholm scoring the club's first goal of the Final.

After that, it was all Panthers.

Evan Rodrigues scored two goals, Florida limited Edmonton to 19 shots on goal, and the Oilers' vaunted power play was once again held scoreless.

Here's what stood out in Florida's second straight victory, as well as key players to watch in Game 3 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN+) and the biggest lingering questions.

Panthers grade: A

Florida put on a clinic of sorts in Game 2. Edmonton managed just seven shots on net through the first two periods -- compared to 22 off the Panthers' sticks -- and Florida's top units were rolling over the Oilers' best players.

The Panthers were smothering from the start, and stopped Edmonton from gaining any significant traction even after the Oilers opened scoring with a 4-on-4 goal. Florida made Edmonton pay for every mistake -- like Evan Bouchard's awful turnover that led to Evan Rodrigues' winning goal. The Oilers never seemed to recover from that snafu, and the harder they tried to compensate, the more Florida settled into their own groove and dictated pace in the game.

Edmonton's frustration boiled over by the end, and Florida kept pressing until the final buzzer. It's hard to fathom what, exactly, can stop the Panthers now.


Oilers grade: D

There wasn't just one issue, there were several for the Oilers.

It started with being held to seven shots through the first two periods, which tied a record for the fewest shots through the first two frames of a Stanley Cup Final game. They didn't reach double digits until there was 16:05 left in the third period.

Even when they broke through to have 12 shots in the final frame, they gave up two goals before the Panthers scored an empty-netter late in the third. Keep in mind, that's with having a shot share of 71% in the third frame in 5-on-5 play.

And if all that wasn't enough, they also struggled to insulate Stuart Skinner. While the Oilers have worked to consistently limit opponents, Skinner has shown he can handle a heavier workload and his team can still win. The Oilers were 5-1 in games in which Skinner faced more than 25 shots this postseason, a mark that now drops to 5-2.


What we learned in Game 2

The Panthers have depth for days

Sure, it would be easy to quibble about Florida's power play going 1-for-6 against an excellent Edmonton penalty kill that had killed 34 straight man-advantage attempts until Rodrigues scored a third-period, power-play goal. But that's just it; Florida has skaters on every line capable of making a difference.

Rodrigues scored twice in the Panthers' victory, while defenseman Niko Mikkola grabbed the other goal to put Florida on a clear path to victory (Aaron Ekblad's empty-netter was mere icing on Florida's cake).

The Panthers have top-tier talents who can light the lamp at any moment but don't require that to be successful. Even when special teams are struggling. Even when goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky isn't perfect (which he has been close to in this series). Florida was excellent in all three phases at times in Game 2 because their lineup is strong and sound from its first to fourth line, from the third pairing to the first.

play
0:45
Florida's Niko Mikkola atones for near blunder with goal seconds later

After nearly firing in an own goal, Niko Mikkola scores on the other end moments later to bring the Panthers level.

There's a disconnect with the Oilers

Finding a way to come back after losing in the playoffs has been part of the Oilers' identity this postseason. They lost Game 2 to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime, only to win three straight to win the series in five games. After every loss in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks, they won. Even after losing two games to the Dallas Stars, they won three straight to close out the Western Conference finals in six games.

It's proof that the Oilers have been able to make the necessary adjustments. But what makes this different -- other than it being in the Cup Final -- is that the Oilers had at least one victory in previous series whenever they lost. Now they're in a 2-0 hole facing one of two realities: Either they cut the series to 2-1 or they face a 3-0 hole knowing they could potentially get swept on home ice in Game 4.

The Oilers' strongest bet for secondary offense could be their defensemen

One of the conversations after Game 1 was how 52% of the Oilers' shots came from Evan Bouchard, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid. Game 2 saw another quartet lead the way when it came to the Oilers' getting shots on net: the Oilers defensemen combined for 13 of the Oilers' 19 shots on goal.

No, really. Mattias Ekholm, who scored the Oilers' lone goal, along with Brett Kulak, Vincent Desharnais and Bouchard were responsible for 13 shots. Kulak had five shots, Desharnais and Ekholm each had three, while Bouchard had two. The rest of the Oilers' shots belonged to Draisaitl, Hyman and McDavid.


Players to watch in Game 3

Matthew Tkachuk, F, Panthers

Florida hasn't seen the best of Matthew Tkachuk yet in the Cup Final. That's not to say Tkachuk hasn't been visible -- he just hasn't had the series-shifting, game-changing performance of which he has proven capable in the past.

Edmonton's level of urgency will skyrocket now that it's not only in a 2-0 deficit but back playing for its home crowd. This is when the Panthers need their stars to step up, and given the uncertainty surrounding Aleksander Barkov's status after the third period hit he took from Draisaitl, it's on Tkachuk to set a tone for the Panthers and demonstrate his leadership.

And he's quite familiar with the Edmonton crowd, after skating for the archnemesis Calgary Flames prior to his trade to the Panthers.

Florida has an opportunity to take a commanding lead on the Oilers, and Tkachuk will want to be a catalyst.

Darnell Nurse, D, Oilers

For starters, will Nurse be healthy enough to play in Game 3? Or will the Oilers be faced to make another adjustment with their defensive pairings?

Nurse was on the receiving end of a first-period check that led to him going to the dressing room. He returned for a 13-second shift, only to go back to the dressing room again before coming back to the Oilers' bench. Nurse had just one shift in the second period and two more in the third period.

Getting injured is the latest development in what has been a trying postseason for Nurse. He was on the ice for two goals in Game 1, pushing him to a minus-15 rating for the playoffs. That mark is one away from the lowest plus/minus rating in a single postseason.


Big questions for Game 3

Will Barkov be available?

Florida is fortunate there are two days between Game 2 and Game 3. That gives Barkov a more time to be assessed to determine whether it's safe for him to get back in action following the high hit from Draisaitl.

Barkov has had a tremendous run in this postseason, posting six goals and 19 points. If he is unavailable, that puts pressure on Anton Lundell and the Panthers' other depth centers to step up -- a tall task at any juncture of the season, but especially when facing an Edmonton team that will be desperate to start evening the score on home ice.

Barkov's status will be at the forefront for Florida until there's a definite answer on his availability.

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1:19
Why Sergei Bobrovsky is enjoying the 'fun challenge' of facing Oilers

Sergei Bobrovsky joins Scott Van Pelt following the Panthers' 4-1 win over the Oilers in Game 2.

What must happen for the Oilers to piece together a consistent performance?

Game 1 saw the Oilers consistently generating shots for two periods while limiting shots on the other end ... only to lose. Game 2 saw them score against Bobrovsky, but they struggled to get shots on net while allowing several chances at a time ... which led to them losing.

Through two games, there have been glimpses of progress, but also quite a few moments of struggle. Part of the narrative with the Oilers this season following Kris Knoblauch's hire has been the ability to make adjustments. They did so against the Canucks when they were down 2-1 in the second round. They did it again when they lost two straight in the Western Conference finals to the Stars.

Can they once again find the right combinations to climb out of a 2-0 series hole or could they be facing the threat of facing elimination on home ice in Game 4?

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