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Evan Rodrigues, Panthers surge late, down Oilers in Game 2

The Florida Panthers are halfway to winning the Stanley Cup Final thanks to a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night in Sunrise, Fla.

The Panthers, on a quest for the first championship in franchise history, lead the best-of-seven series 2-0, having taken both home dates to kick off the set.

They are also well aware of the danger of looking too far ahead going into Game 3 on Thursday in Edmonton.

“We don’t change our game for anything,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad told Sportsnet. “Up 2-1, down 2-1 in a game, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going in their building up 2-0, we’re going in there to play a hockey game.”

Florida now has history on its side, as 49 of the 54 previous teams that won the first two games of the finals went on to capture the Stanley Cup.

Evan Rodrigues scored twice in the third period to break a 1-1 deadlock, while Niko Mikkola and Ekblad added single goals for the Panthers, who emphatically responded with four unanswered markers after falling behind just past the midpoint of the first period. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 18 saves.

The victory may have come at a high cost, though. Florida captain Aleksander Barkov left the game after taking a forearm to the jaw from Leon Draisaitl in the middle of the third period, and he did not return.

Draisaitl said of the hit, according to The Athletic, “I don’t think that’s frustration. It was just a hit. I don’t think there’s anything dirty about it. Maybe I got him a little high. Certainly not with intent to injure, though, or anything like that.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice, who was stern at times during his media availability, provided no update about his star center. Draisaitl was handed a minor penalty, and Maurice refused to divulge publicly whether he felt that was the correct call.

“This isn’t ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ My feelings don’t matter,” Maurice said.

If there was some consolation, Rodrigues netted his second goal of the game during the ensuing power play — which snapped Edmonton’s perfect run of kills at 34 — to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead.

Mattias Ekholm had the lone goal for the Oilers, who managed only seven shots on target through the first two periods. Goalie Stuart Skinner stopped 25 shots.

Edmonton has managed only one goal through the first two games with all of its big guns having gone silent, but coach Kris Knoblauch said his team has no reason to panic.

“Just pucks not going in. I think we’ve had good chances,” Knoblauch said. “We’ve got some really good looks. We’d be talking about how good our power play is if those three that go off the goalpost go in.”

The Oilers have little time to change the series by converting more of those chances.

“It’s not ideal, obviously, but we have two games at home,” Edmonton forward Zach Hyman said. “You’ve got to take care of business at home. They just did that at home, and it’s our job to go home and win two. And it starts with one.”

Right now, the odds are stacked against the Oilers, who have enjoyed a remarkable run after being near the bottom of the league standings one month into the campaign.

“It’s exciting,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. “It’s another opportunity for our group to come together and dig our way out. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be difficult.

“I’m excited to see what our group’s made out of. I’m excited to see our group come together. I’m excited to see us fighting through adversity and looking forward to people doubting us again. We’re good with our backs against the wall.”

The Oilers have an injury concern of their own, with defenseman Darnell Nurse limited to only a few shifts after appearing to be injured following a check from Rodrigues midway through the first period.

–Field Level Media

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