Sergei Bobrovsky brilliant as Panthers blank Oilers in Stanley Cup final opener

Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves to register the third playoff shutout of his career as the Florida Panthers defeated the visiting Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup final.

Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues and Eetu Luostarinen, into an empty net, scored for Florida. Aleksander Barkov had two assists.

Stuart Skinner stopped 15 shots for Edmonton.

Game 2 of a title series with the furthest distance between competing cities in NHL history goes Monday back at Amerant Arena before the best-of-seven series shifts to the Alberta capital.

The Oilers are in the final for the first time since 2006 and are looking for their first sip from hockey’s holy grail since winning the franchise’s fifth Cup in 1990.

The Panthers have never topped the NHL mountain after making the championship matchup in 1996 and 2023.

Florida opened the scoring at 3:59 of the first period when Verhaeghe scored his 10th goal of the post-season off a slick feed from Barkov on the home side’s first shot.

The Oilers, who are looking to become the first Canadian team to bring the Cup across the border since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, controlled much of the action from there, but couldn’t solve Bobrovsky.

The Panthers goaltender denied Connor McDavid on a decent chance before Edmonton centre Adam Henrique crushed Florida defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with a big hit behind the net.

Edmonton killed off its 29th straight penalty later in the period before Henrique was denied by Bobrovsky on a breakaway and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was stoned on a power-play move to the backhand as the Panthers went more than 10 minutes without a shot.

Edmonton’s scorching man advantage couldn’t connect on an opportunity that stretched from late in the first to early in the second — Zach Hyman fired high from in tight with Bobrovsky down and out — before Florida doubled its lead.

Sam Bennett beat Oilers defenceman Cody Ceci to the puck in the corner and caught both Darnell Nurse and Evander Kane napping in front for Rodrigues to score his fourth at 2:16.

Bobrovsky then went to work, stopping a Bouchard chance that was batted out of mid-air a Ceci blast that looked to be heading in hit teammate Corey Perry in the crease.

Bennett then crunched McDavid — his minor hockey teammate growing up in the Greater Toronto Area — with a solid check.

Things turned a little nasty in what’s expected to be a physical series when Connor Brown pushed both Bobrovsky and the frozen puck into Florida’s net on a sequence that was immediately waved off.

In the final for the second time in 12 months after falling to the Vegas Golden Knights last June, the Panthers were under siege on an another Edmonton power play — a league-topping 37.3 per cent in the playoffs entering Saturday — later in the period.

Bobrovsky stopped McDavid and Bouchard before Nugent-Hopkins fired high over the net. Warren Foegele had a couple of chances moments later which the 35-year-old netminder also thwarted as fans inside Amerant Arena chanted his name as the Oilers led 26-12 on the shot clock through 40 minutes.

Bobrovsky kept it up early in the third with a save on McDavid off a Leon Drasaitl setup.

Edmonton killed off a 30th consecutive power play later in the period and got a few more chances at the other end, but still couldn’t solve the Florida netminder before Luostarinen iced it late.

The winner of Game 1 in a best-of-seven final holds an all-time series record of 64-20 (. 762). The last three Cup winners won the opener, but all three from 2018 to 2020 rallied from 1-0 deficits.

The Cup was on the ice before the opening faceoff for the first time since the 1960s. It appeared in the stands ahead of Game 1 of the 2020 final in Edmonton’s fan-less COVID-19 bubble.


Posted in CBC