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Rodrigues scores twice, Panthers down Oilers to take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup final

SUNRISE 鈥 Connor McDavid and his Oilers have faced adversity all season. They started the schedule an ugly 2-9-1. They trailed the Vancouver Canucks three times in the second round of the playoffs.
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Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save on a tip by Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) during second period game 2 action of the NHL Stanley Cup finals in Sunrise, Fla., on Monday, June 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

SUNRISE 鈥 Connor McDavid and his Oilers have faced adversity all season.

They started the schedule an ugly 2-9-1. They trailed the Vancouver Canucks three times in the second round of the playoffs. They fell behind the Dallas Stars before claiming the Western Conference crown.

Florida, however, is a different animal 鈥 and Edmonton has a deep hole to climb out of after heading north.

Evan Rodrigues scored twice in the third period as the Panthers downed the Oilers 4-1 on Monday to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup final.

"We gotta be better," said McDavid, who assisted on Mattias Ekholm's goal that gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead. "They went up a level and we didn't match it."

The Oilers, who have scored just once in the series after being blanked 3-0 in Game 1 when Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky grabbed the headlines, will need a massive push against the stout, suffocating Panthers to become just the sixth team in NHL history to hoist hockey's holy grail after going down 0-2 in a best-of-seven final.

"It's another opportunity for our group to come together and dig our way out," McDavid said. "It's supposed to be hard, it's supposed to be difficult.

"I'm excited to see what our group's made of."

Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad, into an empty net, also scored for Florida. Bobrovsky made 18 saves after stopping 32 shots in the opener. Anton Lundell had two assists.

"We just try to play the same game," Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk said. "Just play really hard, play in your face, keep the gaps good, play simple, move your feet, get some hits."

Stuart Skinner stopped 25 shots for Edmonton, which hosts Game 3 on Thursday.

"It's not ideal," Oilers forward Zach Hyman said. "We've got to take care of business at home."

Rodrigues snapped a 1-1 tie at 3:11 of the third when he ripped his fifth goal of the playoffs 鈥 and second of the series 鈥 on a shot that nicked Ekholm in front after defence partner Evan Bouchard put the puck right on the winger's stick.

Edmonton centre Leon Draisaitl was whistled for roughing on Florida captain Aleksander Barkov, who did not return, midway through the period, and the Panthers' struggling power play finally broke through on the Oilers after 34 straight kills going all the way back to the Vancouver series.

Bouchard's tough night continued when he got beat along the boards and Lundell fed a pass into the slot that Rodrigues redirected at 12:26.

"It's special," Rodrigues said. "Trying to embrace it. Trying to stay in the moment."

McDavid had a breakaway with Edmonton and Florida playing 4-on-4 with under six minutes to go in regulation, but Bobrovsky made the save.

Ekblad iced it with his first of the post-season into the empty net with 2:28 left in regulation before fans at Amerant Bank Arena chanted "We Want the Cup!" as the clock wound down.

"They're doing a good job defending," Draisaitl said. "But we can do a better job of creating offence and being harder on pucks."

Florida is now a pair of wins from its first championship after losing out in the 1996 final and again last spring.

"I thought it was a continuation of our third period from Game 1," Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of the defensive performance. "The effort was outstanding."

Edmonton forward Warren Foegele was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing Panthers centre Eetu Luostarinen at 9:21 of the opening period. Florida defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was then whistled for tripping.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, Ekholm took a pass from McDavid and fired Edmonton's first shot through Bobrovsky's five-hole for the Oilers' first goal of the series 鈥 and the blueliner's fifth 鈥 at 11:17.

Panthers defenceman Brandon Montour hit the crossbar on the next shift.

The Oilers doused the rest of Foegele's major and a Bouchard penalty that stretched from the first to second period to make it 33 straight kills.

The Oilers lost Darnell Nurse (undisclosed injury) midway through the first after he took a hit from Rodrigues. The defenceman went out for a couple of shifts the rest of the night, but was largely unavailable.

Florida evened things 1-1 at 9:34 of the second when Mikkola fired past Skinner's glove for his second.

Bouchard hit one off the post on a power play and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rang a puck off the crossbar shortly after the infraction expired.

Bouchard took another penalty toward the end of the period, but Edmonton's kill once again did its job 鈥 including a big stop from Skinner on Sam Bennett 鈥 to tie the 2001 St. Louis Blues for the third-longest streak in one playoff.

Rodrigues, however, would end that run in the third with his second of the night to send the Oilers home from South Florida in desperation mode.

"I'm excited to see our group come together," McDavid said. "I'm excited to see us fight through adversity and looking forward to people doubting us again.

"We're good with our backs against the wall."

That's exactly where Edmonton stands two games into the final.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on X.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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