scf gm 2 main column

SUNRISE, Fla. -- DJ Khaled took the stage outside Amerant Bank Arena on Monday, getting the fans’ hands up before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“Let’s go, Florida!” the Miami-based artist yelled into the microphone. “All I do is …”

He let the fans sing the next three words.

“Win, win, win …”

That’s all the Florida Panthers do these days too.

With a 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers, they earned their fifth straight win, set a team record with their 14th win of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

“We want the Cup!” the fans chanted as the clock counted down in the final minute. “We want the Cup!”

Two more wins, and the Panthers will hoist it for the first time.

Game 3 is at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, TVAS, SN).

“It’s special,” said Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues, who scored twice in Game 2 and has three goals in the series. “Trying to embrace it. Trying to stay in the moment. That’s two big wins for our team, and I think we’ve already turned the page, and we’re getting ready for Game 3.”

EDM@FLA SCF, Gm2: Rodrigues capitalizes on turnover for lead in 3rd period

This has been a long time coming. The Panthers made the Cup Final in 1995-96, their third season as an NHL expansion team, but were swept by the Colorado Avalanche. They made the playoffs only four times over the next 22 seasons and didn’t win a round.

But they have made the playoffs the past five seasons, and this is their second straight Cup Final. They lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games a year ago, bruised and battered at the end of an epic run, but are healthy and humming this time.

A key point came after Florida won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team in 2021-22. The Panthers led the NHL in goals (337) but tied for 20th in goals against (242).

They defeated the Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round, winning a playoff series for the first time since 1996, but got swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.

Then they hired coach Paul Maurice to instill a playoff style.

Since Jan. 1, 2022, they rank third in goals (774) and ninth in goals against (621) in the regular season. They have become known for playing physically, forechecking and wearing down the opposition. It has translated to the playoffs.

“Playoff hockey is different,” Maurice said. “We talk about this in training camp. It’s hard. The buy-in isn’t from the coach. It’s nothing I’ve done. It is the players’ willingness. The running joke in the coaches’ office here is, ‘Be careful what you tell them to do, because they’re going to do exactly that.’

SCF, Gm2: Oilers @ Panthers Recap

“So, we’ve worked very hard. I believe for our veteran core of the last two years, this is Game 204. We’ve been working really, really hard for 204 games to get to this.”

The Oilers outshot the Panthers 32-18 in Game 1, including 25-12 in the first two periods. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had to be the hero in the 3-0 win. But the Panthers felt they found their game in the third period of Game 1 and carried it into Game 2.

Although defenseman Mattias Ekholm gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead at 11:17 of the first period Monday, it was in a 4-on-4 situation. The Oilers had only one shot at that point. When defenseman Niko Mikkola tied it 1-1 at 9:34 of the second, the Panthers were outshooting the Oilers 15-5.

“We were down one goal, and everybody was calm and trusting the process,” Mikkola said. “We were trusting we were going to get the chances, and I was lucky, got the one through.”

The Panthers pulled away in the third period, as has become their trademark. Rodrigues scored at even strength at 3:11 and on the power play at 12:26, ending the Oilers’ penalty-killing streak at 34. 

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad scored into an empty net at 17:32. Florida has outscored its opponents 27-11 in the third period in the playoffs.

Even though they have the top three scorers in the playoffs -- center Connor McDavid (32 points), forward Leon Draisaitl (28) and defenseman Evan Bouchard (28) -- the Oilers have one goal in two games. They haven’t scored 5-on-5 or on the power play.

You could see the Oilers’ frustration in the third.

“We’ve worked so hard starting from training camp,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “It might just pay off in the third. I don’t know. Everybody’s in great shape and great competitors. As games go on, we like to think we get a little bit better, so it’s just all about the style of play and trying to play that for 60-plus minutes. It’s hard to do, but we’ve done it for two years.”

Now the Panthers need to do it for two more wins.

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