Panthers draw first blood with 3-0 win over Oilers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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After waiting forever for the Stanley Cup Final to begin, the Edmonton Oilers walked into a recurring nightmare that seemed like it would never end.

First period: Dominate play, get shut down by a goalie, give up a goal on the other team’s first shot.

Second period: Dominate play, get shut down by a goalie, give up a goal on the other team’s first shot.

Third period: Dominate play, get shut down by a goalie, give up a goal on the last shot of the game.

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It was like one of those dreams where you’re trying to run away from the bad guy but your legs don’t work, only it was the Oilers’ hands that turned numb as they drove toward the Florida net.

While Edmonton did just about everything they wanted to in Game 1, they were no match for Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Despite being under siege for most of the night, the 35-year-old Russian stole the show, and the game, beating the Oilers 3-0 despite being outshot 33-18.

“We had our looks all game but we couldn’t capitalize,” said Zach Hyman, one of Edmonton’s frustrated forwards. “But I liked our game. If we play like that we’re going to be fine. If we continue to play like we did today I’m very confident in our group.”

It was a painful result for an Oilers team that deserved better. They proved they can hang with Florida, but they also found out that goals aren’t going to come easily in this series and routine mistakes will be the death of them.

“They’re a good team, give them credit, they did enough to win,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, adding that aside from the score, the Oilers sent a message in this one. “We showed tonight that we can play them; that’s a confidence booster for our group. We know that our best can play with anybody.”

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To make matters worse for the Oilers, the odds are firmly in Florida’s corner now. History shows that drawing first blood in a Stanley Cup Final usually results in a wound the other team can’t close. Game 1 winners hoist the trophy 75.6 per cent of the time.

“You don’t like the result,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “But you regroup and get ready for Game 2.”

When we last saw the Oilers on June 2 they were firing bullets on the man advantage, sucking the life out of the Dallas power play and advancing to the Cup final on a night they were outshot 34-10 because Stuart Skinner had just out-duelled Jake Oettinger.

Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers
SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 08: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers collides with Brandon Montour #62 of the Florida Panthers during the second period in Game One of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 08, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

And the weeklong layoff didn’t bother them whatsoever.

Edmonton looked great out of the box — they had first-period breakaways from Adam Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, point-blank looks from McDavid and Hyman and were outshooting Florida 13-4 at the first intermission — but they were down 1-0 after Carter Verhaeghe scored on Florida’s first shot.

The next 20 minutes were more of the same, with Edmonton getting two more power plays, five or six great scoring chances and outshooting Florida 26-12 at the second intermission — but they were down 2-0 when Evan Rodriguez scored on Florida’s first shot.

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Now they know how the Stars felt.

“There is the element of luck, sometimes pucks go in,” said Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch. “There were a good share of opportunities for us to score, but there are things we’re going to have to look at to try and increase those chances.”

Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers
SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 08: Stuart Skinner #74 of the Edmonton Oilers makes a safe during the first period against the Florida Panthers in Game One of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 08, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

The much-maligned and analytically-challenged defence pairing of Nurse and Cody Ceci were the culprits on both Panthers goals.

One of the themes was supposed to be Edmonton’s power play making Florida pay for its indiscretions, but it didn’t work out that way. Edmonton had three power plays in the first 30 minutes and couldn’t convert.

“We saw it in the Dallas series where we didn’t score early and then we went four-for-five,” said Knoblauch. “There is always the law of averages. Over time, things work out, that’s why it’s a best-of-seven and not a one-game elimination.”

It didn’t take long for the Oilers to try and get into Sergio Bobrovsky’s kitchen. Hyman “fell” into him in the first period, leading to the first scrum of the series, and Connor Brown took a hard dig at a frozen puck in the second, leading to another.

Head coach Kris Knoblauch pulled Skinner with 2:20 left in regulation but all that came of it was the 3-0 goal from Eetu Loustarinen at 19:55.


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