Florida Panthers plan to keep foot on the gas even with opening win in NHL’s Stanley Cup Final

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner skates back to his position during the second period against the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. (AP photo)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Up 1-0 in Round 1 against Tampa Bay, the Florida Panthers said they had to get better. Down 1-0 in Round 2 against Boston, they said it again. Up 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, same thing.

And now, leading the Stanley Cup Final 1-0 over the Edmonton Oilers going into Game 2 tonight, nothing has changed.

There will be no relaxing, the Panthers — 3-0 winners in the Cup opener — insisted on Sunday. No change of approach, no sense of accomplishment, nothing but an effort to be even sharper in Game 2 against an Oilers team that outshot them by a ton in Game 1 and rarely gets shut down offensively in back-to-back games.

“What can you learn from the game is the most important thing,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Where can you get better? You want to temper all of that when you sit down and watch your video because the other team gets paid, too. That’s some pretty good players over there.”

Those players over there — led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — liked much of what they brought in Game 1.

They just couldn’t beat Sergei Bobrovsky, the Florida goalie who is absolutely dialed in right now. He’s got a 1.24 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage in his last four games, plus has yielded two goals or less in 11 of his last 12 contests.

The video confirmed what the Oilers knew: In Game 1, they created great chances.

“There’s no panic in our room right now,” Oilers forward Connor Brown said.

With good reason, too. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Edmonton is going to have a certain resolve tonight, not just for losing Game 1 of a Cup final — but after getting shut out as well. The Oilers are 3-0-0 this season in the game immediately following a shutout loss, outscoring teams 19-8 in those games. Add in last year and they’re 5-0-0 after a shutout with a scoring margin of 29-14.

And so far in these playoffs, Edmonton has had a bounceback ability. The Oilers are 5-1 in this postseason after a loss, outscoring teams in those games 26-14.

“I think it’s been a great trait of ours throughout the whole season, our ability to bounce back, even period to period sometimes,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “Of course, you’re going to go through tough stretches through the season, and it’s how you respond to that. Even through the playoffs, we’ve been able to do that. So, we should take that confidence.”

If all those numbers didn’t seem impressive enough, try this one: The Oilers have managed one goal or less on 13 occasions this season, including Saturday night. In the game following such an outing, the Oilers are averaging 4.9 goals — 6.0 goals in their last eight such games.

In short, some goals are almost certainly coming from the West champs. But while the Panthers would be wise to brace for that, it’s also the Oilers who are saying they expect to see more from their opponent in Game 2 as well.

“That was a game where I don’t think it was their best and they’re just going to be better,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “You look at how well they’ve played throughout these playoffs. I feel we’ll see more from them.”

There won’t be a Cup awarded tonight, but everyone knows it’s a huge game and everyone understands the stakes. In the expansion era, 32 of the 35 teams that opened the title series with wins in both Game 1 and Game 2 have gone on to win the trophy.

Florida gets total control with a win. Edmonton gets home-ice advantage with a win. How tonight goes could very easily shape the rest of the season.

“Well, we know we need to get better than what we were yesterday and we need to keep building because Edmonton is an unbelievable team,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “They have so much skill in their lineup. It’s going to be tough, for sure.”


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