NHL

Panthers take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final

By Sports Desk June 10, 2024

Evan Rodrigues had two of three Florida Panthers goals in the third period as the Eastern Conference champions took a 2-0 lead on the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final with Monday's 4-1 win.

Niko Mikkola also scored and Aaron Ekblad had a game-sealing empty-net goal in the final minutes as the Panthers moved two wins away from the franchise's first Stanley Cup title.

They did so by keeping Connor McDavid and Edmonton's high-powered offence in check for a second straight meeting. After being dealt a 3-0 loss in Saturday's opener of the best-of-seven series, the Oilers managed just seven shots on goal over the first two periods of Game 2 and 19 for the night.

Florida did sustain a key injury in Game 2, however, as captain and top-line centre Aleksandar Barkov did not return after taking an elbow to the head from Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl midway through the third period. 

Mattias Ekholm recorded the lone goal for the Oilers, who will attempt to reverse momentum on home ice when the series shifts to Edmonton for Thursday's Game 3.

Despite Florida owning a 22-7 shot advantage through the first two periods, the teams were locked in a 1-1 tie until Rodrigues stole an attempted clearing pass from Edmonton's Evan Bouchard in the Oilers' end and whistled a shot past goaltender Stuart Skinner 3:11 into the third.

Rodrigues struck again on the power play created by Draisaitl's roughing penalty on Barkov with 9:28 remaining, as he redirected a pass from Anton Lundell into the Edmonton net for a 3-1 Florida lead with 7:34 left.

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch pulled Skinner for an extra attacker with under seven minutes to go, and the move gave Edmonton essentially a two-man advantage when Florida defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson received a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck into the stands with less than five minutes remaining.

The Panthers killed off the infraction, however, then ended any hopes of an Edmonton comeback when Ekblad scored into the vacant net with 2:28 left to play.

Florida had the game's first prime scoring opportunity when Oilers forward Warren Foegele received a five-minute major penalty and an ejection for a knee-to-knee hit on the Panthers' Eetu Luostarinen midway through the first period.

The Panthers couldn't capitalise, however, and the sides were soon 4-on-4 when Ekman-Larsson was called for tripping during the extended power play.

Just 19 seconds after Ekman-Larsson was sent off, Ekholm's shot on a 2-on-1 rush evaded Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky to put Edmonton up 1-0 with 8:43 remaining in the opening period.

Florida drew even midway through the second period when Mikkola fired a drop pass from Lundell past Skinner.

Bobrovsky finished with 18 saves, while Skinner stopped 25 of 28 shots.

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