SI:AM | Panthers Ride Defense to 2–0 Lead Over Oilers in Stanley Cup Final

Edmonton has fallen flat in the first two games and now finds itself in a serious hole.
Rodrigues (17) has been a surprising scoring option for Florida.
Rodrigues (17) has been a surprising scoring option for Florida. / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m so impressed by what Sergei Bobrovsky is doing at age 35.

In today’s SI:AM:

🏆 Dan Hurley stays at UConn
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🕯️ The Yankees’ clubhouse trend

Can the Oilers turn it around in Edmonton?

The Florida Panthers are inching closer to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Florida beat the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night to take a 2–0 lead in the series—and neither game has been close.

The Panthers won 3–0 in Game 1 and 4–1 in Game 2 as Edmonton’s usually high-flying offense has been held in check. The Oilers scored the fourth-most goals in the NHL this season (3.59 per game) and had blitzed opponents with a lethal power play in the first three rounds of the playoffs, converting an impressive 37.3% of man-up opportunities. But Edmonton is 0-for-7 on power play opportunities in the first two games of the Final, which is a major reason why the offense has been so punchless.

“We have to be better and we can be better for sure,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “I thought they went up a level and we didn’t match it today.”

Give the Panthers credit, though. In Game 1, Florida was out-shot 32–18, but Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped every shot he faced for his second shutout of these playoffs. Bobrovsky is one of the best goalies of his generation and was key to the Panthers’ playoff run last season, but he wilted in the Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, allowing eight goals in the deciding Game 5. Bobrovsky has shined thus far in this year’s Final, though, having now stopped 50 of the 51 shots he’s faced (98%).

Due to the shot discrepancy, the Panthers really needed Bobrovsky to stand on his head in Game 1. But in Game 2, Florida’s defense really clamped down on Edmonton, allowing just seven shots on goal in the first two periods and 19 for the game.

“They controlled the pace of the game more so than we did,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said. “They played better than we did. We didn’t have as many looks (as in Game 1). We weren’t playing with enough pace, they were controlling the play for the majority of the game.

“You’ve got to find a way to score.”

The man leading the way offensively for Florida is an unlikely one. Evan Rodrigues scored one goal in Game 1 and two in Game 2, including the go-ahead goal early in the third period. He scored just 12 goals in 80 games in the regular season and has never scored more than 19 goals in a season in his nine-year career. Monday night was his 500th career NHL game (combined regular season and playoffs) and just his 10th multi-goal game.

“So good, so happy for him. Proud of him,” Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk said of Rodrigues. “He reads the game so well. He’s a super smart player, and I’m really happy to see him get rewarded right now.”

It wasn’t all good news for the Panthers, though. Star forward Aleksander Barkov left the game midway through the third period after he was hit in the head with an elbow from Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl. Barkov had trouble getting back on his feet after the hit. He did not return to the ice and Florida coach Paul Maurice did not have an update on his status after the game.

Draisaitl left his feet to deliver the hit but was only assessed a two-minute minor penalty for roughing. He said after the game that he did not think the hit was dirty.

“I don’t think there was anything dirty about it,” Draisaitl said. “I don’t know, maybe I got him a little high, but certainly not any intent to injure or anything like that.”

If Barkov is sidelined due to injury, it would be a massive blow to the Panthers. He is not only tied for the team lead with 19 points this postseason, he’s also one of the best defensive forwards in the game. It’s also possible that the Oilers could be without Draisaitl, their second leading scorer, as a result of the hit. Though he was only assessed a two-minute penalty on the ice, the NHL will certainly review the hit and weigh possible supplemental discipline. Suspending a player in the Stanley Cup Final would be a highly controversial decision, but leaving your feet to deliver a hit to the head is the kind of play that can lead to a suspension in the regular season.

Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley shouts at his team during the Men’s NCAA national championship game.
Hurley turned down the Lakers’ lucrative offer. / Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. Evan Rodrigues’s heads-up defensive play, leading to his first goal of the night.
4. A deep three for Caitlin Clark.
3. Luke Raley’s two-out RBI bunt to tie the game for the Mariners.
2. An excellent diving catch by Mike Yastrzemski.
1. Cal Raleigh’s walk-off grand slam for Seattle.

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Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).