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Panthers take Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final as Sergei Bobrovsky shuts out Oilers

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers offered plenty of good reason to believe this year’s Stanley Cup Final won’t go like last.

Behind goals from Carter Verhaeghe and Evan Rodrigues and with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopping everything that came his way, the Panthers won Game 1 over the Edmonton Oilers, 3-0, Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena.

In their return to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s a sharp contrast from the 5-2 loss suffered in Las Vegas to start the 2023 installment, leading the Panthers’ to their demise in five games.

Instead, it was a celebratory atmosphere from the moment Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel banged the drum pregame to hype up the sell-out crowd. Florida is leading a Stanley Cup Final series for the first time in its third appearance playing for the NHL’s top prize.

The Panthers presented the high-powered offensive attack of the Oilers with greater physicality than they saw in the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars. Florida constantly knew where star Edmonton center Connor McDavid was, making sure he couldn’t skate freely.

Nonetheless, Edmonton nearly doubled the Panthers in shots on goal, 33-18. Bobrovsky saved every last one of them, hearing chants of “Bob-by” raining down to the ice throughout the night.

It was evident very early Saturday this series was getting off on the right foot when Verhaeghe pushed Florida’s first goal into the net four minutes into Game 1’s action, taking a pass on a 2-on-1 from Aleksander Barkov.

The Oilers had their opportunities at a quick response, but Bobrovsky stopped close shots from McDavid and breakaway chances by Adam Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among his 13 first-period saves to maintain the Panthers’ 1-0 lead through one.

The Panthers struck again early in the second period, shortly after killing off a penalty from the end of the first. Evan Rodrigues slapped the puck over the left shoulder of Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner and into the net from the slot off a smooth backhand centering pass from Sam Bennett.

Off a Bennett penalty later in the period, Bobrovsky stopped one dangerous shot on goal from Leon Draisaitl, and with Nugent-Hopkins prepared to blast the rebound past him, he swiftly slid right to keep the goal covered as the shot went high and wide.

Aside from losing Game 1 in Las Vegas last June, the Panthers were swept in their 1996 Cup Final by the Colorado Avalanche, so Saturday’s victory was their first in the opener of a final series.

Holding the Oilers down again in the final period, Eetu Luostarinen added an empty-net goal with 4.4 seconds remaining to tack onto the final score.

Game 2 is back at Amerant Bank Arena at 8 p.m. Monday night.

This story will be updated.

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