Panthers seize control of Stanley Cup Final after late surge in Game 2

Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton knocked Florida’s Aleksander Barkov out of the game. The Panthers made sure to respond by delivering the bigger blow, and the Stanley Cup Final took a heated turn Monday night.

Evan Rodrigues scored a pair of goals in the third period, Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad also scored and the Panthers used one more airtight final kick to pull away and beat the Oilers 4-1 for a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup -final.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for Florida, which was 1-8 all-time in Cup finals before this series began – and now two wins away from capturing their first championship. The total score over two games: Florida 7-1 Edmonton.

β€œA task for six men against the best players in the world,” said Ekblad.

But the victory came at a price for Florida, as the Panthers lost Barkov, their captain, when Edmonton forward Draisaitl came at him midway through the third period and hit him in the head. Barkov lay down for a while, needed help getting to the bench, and headed down the tunnel to Florida’s locker room for further evaluation.

Florida coach Paul Maurice provided no update on Barkov’s condition and was much more tight-lipped than he usually is after wins.

β€œThis isn’t The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Maurice said of the Barkov hit. β€œMy feelings don’t matter.”

Mattias Ekholm scored and Stuart Skinner stopped 25 shots for the Oilers, who now face some serious history.

Edmonton has only successfully recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series once – against San Jose in the second round of the 2006 playoffs. And teams that were down 2-0 Stanley Cup Final starts, have come back having won just five times in 54 previous attempts.

β€œI think we feel like we got here and played well enough to make a break,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. β€œIt doesn’t always happen.”

The series resumes Thursday night with Game 3 in Edmonton.

β€œWe can definitely be better,” Draisaitl said. β€œIt starts with me. …I definitely have a lot more to give. Not my best tonight. Apparently you own that.”

Draisaitl received only a minor penalty for roughing the goal, knocking Barkov out of the game. Rodrigues got a tip-in goal to make it 3-1, the first power play score Edmonton has allowed in its last 34 appearances by a man down.

Connor McDavid had a chance to pull within one on Edmonton on a breakaway with about six minutes left. He was stopped by Bobrovsky, and then he and Matthew Tkachuk struggled a bit along the boards after the play β€” the Panthers still steamrolling over the goal on Barkov.

β€œI don’t have an answer or comment on that,” Tkachuk said when asked what he thought of Draisaitl’s hit on Barkov.

McDavid said of the hit, “I thought it was part of the game.”

Emotions were high all night. Edmonton’s Warren Foegele was ejected in the first period for a knee-on-knee hit that briefly knocked Florida’s Eetu Luostarinen out of the game; That ejection, plus an injury to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, left them with just 11 forwards and five defensemen for much of the game.

Rodrigues scored early in the third on a turnover for a 2-1 lead, setting the tone for yet another Florida comeback. The Panthers – who trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes – are now an NHL-best 5-2 when trailing after one period in these playoffs.

Ekblad capped it off with an empty-netter with 2:28 remaining.

β€œIt should be hard. It should be hard,” McDavid said. β€œI’m curious about what our group is made of.”