SIMMONS: It was All About Bob in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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SUNRISE, Fla. — The first scar of the Stanley Cup final belongs to Connor McDavid.

In a way, the trace of blood above his chin and below his lip was almost symbolic — he didn’t look at all like the winner he is after the 3-0 defeat in Game 1 of the Cup final. He didn’t look satisfied or happy, as some of his teammates seemed to be, with the Oilers inability to score a goal, to take advantage of three power plays, to solve, in the third period, the kind of old school hockey voodoo that is played by the Florida Panthers.

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It was All About Bob — at least from the beginning of Game 1.

All about Sergei Bobrovsky, the leading contender today for the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. And of course, that can change tomorrow.

“He’s amazing down low,” said fellow goalie, Stuart Skinner. “He’s amazing up high. He’s an incredible goalie.”

And he lived up to his billing, all these years later shutting out the Oilers in Game 1 of the final, the same way Billy Smith shut the Oilers out 3-0 in Game 1 of Edmonton’s first trip to the final in 1983.

Smith won the Conn Smythe that year. The Oilers don’t want to hear about that right now. There is too much to focus on, to clean up, to crisp up really, after the two most talented offensive players in hockey combined for no points in their championship debuts.

It wasn’t that McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were terrible. They weren’t. It was that the two legendary playoff performers weren’t able to finish when the opportunity was there, and then didn’t know how to alter the game when Florida played textbook close hockey in the final period of Game 1.

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So many of the Oilers players think they were a break or two away, a shot here, a save there, about winning Game 1. Maybe they were. But to begin with, you can’t win if you don’t score.

Florida scored the winning goal on the first shot of Game 1, not that Skinner had any chance to stop Carter Verhaeghe’s winning goal. But it wasn’t lost in victory that Verhaeghe scored the big goal because, like McDavid and Draisaitl, that’s what he does at playoff time.

“The driver of it was Sergei,” said Panthers coach Paul Maurice. And his goalie was fantastic, stopping 32 Edmonton shots, most of that in the first two periods.

The Panthers aren’t a pretty hockey team. That’s not what makes them special. They rarely lose scrums for loose pucks on the boards. They dump pucks in. They chase. They win forecheck battles. This is old-fashioned hockey at a time when old-fashioned isn’t all that favourable any longer.

They outhit the Oilers 63-35, wore them down, really. The Oilers had more than two minutes of man-advantage hockey after pulling Skinner, but no real chances to score in that time.


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The Panthers do things that aren’t common in hockey today. They flick pucks into the neutral zone a la the late Pat Burns credo of when in doubt, dump it out. It’s not a fun style to play, or play against.

They kill the clock on the cycle game as well. The second goal, scored by Evan Rodrigues, came after a Sam Bennett dump-in. It was a Bennett victory on a loose puck, then a perfect pass to a wide-open Rodrigues.

And that was it. Game 1 lost. Neither goal, before the empty-net score, was Skinner’s fault. The Oilers didn’t break down much in the game but when they did in their own end, it cost them dearly.

The statistics that matter most don’t work in favour of Edmonton. The team that wins Game 1 of the Cup final wins the Cup 76.2% of the time. The team that wins Game 1 at home, wins the Cup 83.6% of the time.

The road to Game 2 on Monday is now fraught with peril for the Oilers. The game didn’t necessarily echo that. The post-game statistics did.

The best defensive forward in hockey was the only offensive player with two points scored in Game 1. Sasha Barkov played more than 21 minutes, most of it opposite McDavid, a lot of it killing penalties, and he made the pass to Verhaeghe for the winner and the pass to Eetu Luostarinen for an empty-netter.

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What mattered after one game isn’t that the Oilers came close. What mattered most is that Barkov outscored McDavid and Draisaitl 2-0.

And Bobrovsky stopped breakaways from Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mattias Janmark, was sharp on tight chances from McDavid and Zach Hyman and was fortunate that a goal seemingly scored by Connor Brown didn’t count.

This is a new series for the Oilers. They aren’t paying against Vancouver’ s third-string goalie. They aren’t playing against Cam Talbot and big-save Dave Rittich. And the way Bobrovsky has played throughout the playoffs, they aren’t playing against Jake Oettinger either.

This was almost All About Bob, but that’s too simple. The Panthers play old-style, not-so-subtle, smash-mouth hockey. And in doing so, they know how to close out games. They did that rather well to take a one-game lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

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