FLA gm 3 same approach TUNE IN Tonight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers were in an understandably upbeat mood before they hopped on their plane Wednesday afternoon, despite the rainy weather in Florida.

Their captain and first-line center Aleksander Barkov was with them and feeling better, and they have a 2-0 lead on the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final heading into Game 3 of the best-of-7 series at Rogers Place on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, TVAS, SN). Barkov practiced Wednesday after missing the final 9:28 of their 4-1 win in Game 2 on Monday following a high hit from Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl, who was given a two-minute penalty for roughing.

"Always a pleasure to have him around," Panthers forward Anton Lundell said. "We never want to have him out, so we're all happy that he was back and he's doing great."

That included coach Paul Maurice, who was admittedly "grumpy" in the aftermath of Game 2, but his mood has improved greatly with Barkov likely to play Game 3.

"It's the driver of my mood, right?" Maurice said. "You go through that fear 'maybe' is the right word. Nobody wants to lose their captain and you don't know if you have or not for a block of time. And then you find out there's a good chance you're not going to and you're in a much better mood."

Two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time, the Panthers might have to control their emotions a little. Teams leading 2-0 lead in a best-of-7 Cup Final go on to win the series 91 percent of the time (49-5).

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"Nothing changes," Lundell said. "We know we still have games to play, and we want to do our best. But at the same time just go out there compete as hard as we can and stay together and trust that we're going to get a good result when we go out there together, have fun and just play our own game."

That approach has served the Panthers well throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Part of that might come from their experience reaching the Cup Final last season, a five-game loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

With Barkov, voted the Selke Trophy winner as the top defensive forward in the NHL this season, playing a key role, Florida has done a good job so far of slowing Edmonton's high-powered offense headed by Connor McDavid and Draisaitl, limiting it to one goal in the first two games. 

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm has scored the Oilers' lone goal, which came during 4-on-4 play. McDavid had one assist and nine shots on goal. Draisaitl had no points and six shots on goal. 

Before the Cup Final, McDavid (31 points; five goals, 26 assists) and Draisaitl (28 points; 10 goals, 18 assists) combined for 59 points through 18 playoff games.

After goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's 32-save shutout was the story in the Panthers' 3-0 victory in Game 1 on Saturday, their Game 2 win was a team effort as they got back to the grinding forecheck and suffocating defense that were among the keys to their success in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Florida outshot Edmonton 29-19 -- 22-7 in the first two periods -- and scored three third-period goals, two from Evan Rodrigues, to complete a sweep of the first two games on home ice. 

According to NHL EDGE Puck and Player Tracking, the Oilers had only one high-danger shot on goal, three mid-range shots on goal and 15 long-range shots on goal in Game 2.

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"Obviously, team defense is something that we do pretty well," Panthers forward Kyle Okposo said. "I don't think many players around the League are winning a footrace against 97 (McDavid). I think that it's defending by committee."

The Panthers have not allowed more than two goals in winning their past five games. Of the six total goals they gave up, only one was scored 5-on-5.

The Oilers power play, which clicked at a League-best 37.3 percent though the first three rounds of the playoffs, was 0-for-4 with one shot on goal in Game 2 and is 0-for-7 in the Final.

"We won some face-offs, and we got the clear right way away and that kills off some time," Panthers forward Kevin Stenlund said. "We're just trying to pressure them when we can and, obviously, you've got to be smart. You can't just force pressure, but pressure when you can and then get the clear out." 

The Oilers hope shifting to Rogers Place, where they are 6-3 in the playoffs and will be able to dictate the matchups with last change as the home team, will turn their fortunes. The Panthers are as comfortable playing on the road as they are at home, though. 

Florida's .750 road winning percentage in the playoffs (6-2) is the best in the NHL.

"Sometimes in the playoffs, you feel a slight advantage on the road," Maurice said. "Simpler game. You don't feel the same kind of, I don't know if it's pressure or whatever it is, but a little less creatively, a little more simpler. All the sudden you're playing faster and you're feeling good." 

Two more road wins and the Panthers could bring the Cup back with them when they return to Florida on Sunday. They're not thinking that far ahead, though. 

"It's going to be impossible not to be on your mind, but in saying that, when you go to the rink or when you prepare for the game, you're preparing for one game and that's it," Okposo said. "Your next game is always the most important one, so we're focusing on Game 3. 

"Obviously, you can think about the bigger picture if you want, but once it's time to go, there's no thoughts of that. It's about your next shift. It's about the next period, the next game."

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