June 22, 2024

Florida Panthers cruise, take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. — After two video games in the Stanley Cup Final, each Florida Panthers ahead Evan Rodrigues and defenseman Niko Mikkola have scored extra objectives than Edmonton Oilers stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman — mixed.

The Panthers took a 2-0 lead in the collection on Monday evening with a 4-1 win over the Oilers that was powered by two unsung members of their supporting forged. Rodrigues scored twice, giving him three objectives in the Final. Mikkola scored a crucial aim to tie the rating in the second interval for less than the second playoff aim of his profession.

“It’s special. You try to embrace it, try to stay in the moment. It’s two big wins for our team. And I think we’ve already turned the page and we’re getting ready for Game 3,” Rodrigues stated.

Florida coach Paul Maurice watched one other sensible defensive effort from his staff by not permitting something in opposition to the heralded Edmonton energy play, not yielding a single high-danger shot try at 5-on-5, preserving Edmonton’s stars with out a aim and counting on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves) to be the final line of protection.

But when Maurice wanted objectives, Rodrigues and Mikkola supplied them.

“We play tight games. We’ve always played tight, hard games. We don’t necessarily score easily. That’s not a function of skill or talent,” the coach stated.

Rodrigues, 30, is a nine-year NHL veteran who signed a four-year, $12 million take care of the Panthers as a free agent final summer time. An analytics darling throughout his profession with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche, he had 12 objectives and 27 assists in 80 video games for the Panthers this season.

His aim in Game 1 was a one-timer previous netminder Stuart Skinner, arrange by a move from behind the online by middle Sam Bennett, that constructed a 2-0 lead for the Panthers.

Game 2 began with Rodrigues delivering a punishing hit on the forecheck in opposition to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who instantly grabbed his facet in discomfort simply 4 shifts into the sport. Nurse would return in the second interval, however he had solely three shifts for the remainder of the evening.

Rodrigues’ first aim in Game 2 got here at 3:11 of the third interval to snap a 1-1 tie — and it was a rating that may have been linked to Nurse’s damage.

Edmonton defenseman Evan Bouchard performed 30:40 in Game 2 as a result of Nurse was harm. The usually regular defenseman made a evident mistake, nonetheless, trying to clear the puck from the Edmonton zone solely to have it land instantly on the stick blade of Rodrigues.

“I got in on the forecheck. Tried to make a play. Almost got myself in a little bit of a pickle trying to look to make a play versus moving my feet,” Rodrigues stated. “Then the puck came back to me, and I wasn’t making that mistake again. So, I just kind of fired it on net, and it went through a couple legs. Obviously, really happy to see it go in.”

His second aim got here on the facility play at 12:26 of the third interval. Bouchard once more was victimized, this time by an Anton Lundell move to Rodrigues, who tipped the puck previous Skinner for a crucial insurance coverage aim.

That ended a streak of 34 straight profitable penalty kills for the Oilers, tied with the 2001 St. Louis Blues for the third-longest such streak in Stanley Cup playoffs historical past.

Rodrigues turned the primary participant in Panthers historical past with a multiple-goal recreation in the Stanley Cup Final. His three objectives in the Final equals his complete by means of the primary three rounds this yr.

His efficiency earned Rodrigues time on the Panthers’ high line with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, as winger Carter Verhaeghe “kind of needs to change your address every once in a while,” Maurice stated.

Rodrigues additionally obtained accolades from his teammates.

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

Forward Kyle Okposo provided his take.

“I think he’s a bit of a chameleon,” he stated of Rodrigues. “I think if you look at the teams that he’s played on and who he’s played with, it’s not an easy thing to go play with some of the top players in the world.”

As for Mikkola, his game-tying aim was fairly an journey.

The 6-foot-4 defenseman had the puck in his personal zone with Edmonton’s Evander Kane bearing down on him. Mikkola spun round and flung the puck — however instantly at his personal goaltender, Bobrovsky, who alertly knocked it away. Mikkola shook his head to acknowledge the blunder then skated up the ice.

“I tried to do defenseman-to-defenseman pass. Bobby was awake, which was good for us,” stated Mikkola, drawing laugher after the sport. “And the rest was nice.”

Moments later, Lundell stickhandled in the Oilers’ zone and dropped a move to a trailing Mikkola, who blasted a one-timer previous Skinner to tie the rating 1-1.

“Even if we were down one goal, everybody was calm and trusting the process,” Mikkola stated. “I was a little lucky. Got the one through.”

Mikkola, 28, was one other free agent coup for common supervisor Bill Zito after signing a three-year, $7.5 million deal. Almost a yr later, he’s a significant motive the Panthers are up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 3 is ready for Thursday in Edmonton.

Since the Stanley Cup Final first went to a seven-game format in 1939, solely 5 groups have come again to win the Cup after shedding the primary two contests.