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Bobrovsky shines as Panthers take Game 1 from Oilers

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid liked his team's performance. Zach Hyman felt the same.

Sergei Bobrovsky was just that much better.

The Panthers goaltender sparkled with a 32-save performance to register the third playoff shutout of his career Saturday as Florida defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 to take a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup final.

The visitors pumped shot after shot at Bobrovsky, including 25 through the first 40 minutes, but simply couldn't find a way through the 2017 Vezina Trophy winner.

"We generated chances, we had looks," McDavid said. "Not a ton of puck luck around their net."

Hyman had an opportunity on the first shift and then fired high from in tight with Bobrovsky down and out on a second-period power play.

"We played pretty well," said the winger, who leads the playoffs with 14 goals. "He's a good goalie over there."

Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues and Eetu Luostarinen, into an empty net, scored for Florida. Aleksander Barkov had two assists.

"They are a great offensive team," Bobrovsky said after picking up his second shutout of the 2024 post-season. "They bring the good challenge."

Added Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk: "Everything you want in a teammate, especially a goalie."

Stuart Skinner stopped 15 shots for Edmonton.

"We really pushed," he said. "Bob was absolutely massive."

Game 2 of a title series with the furthest distance between competing cities in NHL history goes Monday back at Amerant Arena before the best-of-seven showdown shifts to the Alberta capital.

The Oilers are in the final for the first time since 2006 and are looking for their first sip from hockey's holy grail since winning the franchise's fifth Cup in 1990.

"I know how many people gave us a chance in this series, and I think we showed tonight that we can play with them," McDavid said. "That's a confidence booster for this group

"We know that our best can play with anybody."

The Panthers, meanwhile, have never topped the NHL mountain after making the championship matchup in 1996 and 2023.

"Lots of room to improve, which is the positive for us," said Florida head coach Paul Maurice, whose club beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final.

The home side opened the scoring at 3:59 of the opening period when Verhaeghe scored his 10th of the post-season off a slick feed from Barkov on the Panthers' first shot.

The Oilers, who are looking to become the first Canadian team to bring the Cup across the border since 1993, controlled much of the action from there.

Bobrovsky was in their way each time.

The Panthers goaltender denied McDavid before Edmonton, which downed the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final with a 10-shot, two-goal performance in Game 6, killed off its 29th straight penalty later in the period.

Oilers centre Adam Henrique was then stopped by Bobrovsky on a breakaway and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was stoned on a power-play move to the backhand as the Panthers went more than 10 minutes without a shot.

"Just been unreal," Tkachuk said of the Russian. "Preparation is incredible."

Edmonton's scorching man advantage couldn't connect on an opportunity that stretched from late in the first to early in the second — Hyman fired that terrific chance high — before Florida doubled its lead.

Sam Bennett beat Oilers defenceman Cody Ceci to a puck in the corner and caught both Darnell Nurse and Evander Kane napping in front for Rodrigues to score his fourth at 2:16.

Bobrovsky then went to work, stopping a Bouchard chance before a Ceci blast that looked to be heading in hit teammate Corey Perry.

Things turned a little nasty in what's expected to be a physical series when Connor Brown pushed both Bobrovsky and the frozen puck into Florida's net on a sequence that was immediately waved off.

In the final for the second time in 12 months after falling to the Vegas Golden Knights last June, the Panthers were under siege on another Edmonton power play — a league-topping 37.3 per cent in the playoffs entering Saturday — later in the period.

Bobrovsky stopped McDavid and Bouchard before Nugent-Hopkins fired high with the goaltender swimming in his crease. Warren Foegele had a couple of chances moments later which Brobrovsky also thwarted as the Oilers led 25-12 on the shot clock through 40 minutes.

"He was incredible," Rodrigues said. "He did everything for us."

Bobrovsky kept it up early in the third with a save on McDavid off a Leon Draisaitl setup.

Edmonton killed a 30th consecutive power play and got a few more chances at the other end, but simply couldn't solve the Florida netminder before Luostarinen iced it late.

"Maybe it was the hockey gods getting us back for that Game 6 (against Dallas) where we probably didn't deserve to win," McDavid said. "We'll gear up for a big one on Monday."

HOT START

The winner of Game 1 in a best-of-seven final holds an all-time series record of 64-20 (. 762). The last three Cup winners took the opener, but all three from 2018 to 2020 rallied from 1-0 deficits.

IN THE HOUSE

The Cup was on the ice before the opening faceoff for the first time since the 1960s.

"Pretty nice touch," Rodrigues said. "Not gonna lie."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024.

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