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Panthers hope to rebound, returning home on verge of winning Stanley Cup

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — There was lots of chatter at the Florida Panthers' breakfast the morning after the Edmonton Oilers blew them out 8-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final to send the series back across North America.

As lopsided as that loss was in their first chance to close out the series, the Panthers return home to South Florida up 3-1 in the final with another opportunity to win the first championship in franchise history in front of their home fans.

“It’s all about us (needing) to manage the losses,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Obviously it only counts as one win. It doesn’t matter how much you lose, 2-1 or 8-1, so just obviously we need to bounce back. We need to recover now and think about the next one.”

The next one is Game 5 on Tuesday night in Sunrise, which is sure to be a packed house with a crowd anticipating some hockey history. So far 21 of the NHL's 32 teams have won the Cup, and Florida is looking to become the 22nd in its 30th season of existence.

To finish the job, though, some adjustments will need to be made after a letdown in which Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled for allowing five goals on 16 shots and the Oilers dominated just about every facet of the game, scoring short-handed, on a 5-on-3 power play and six more times at even strength.

“We gave up eight goals, and zero of them were the goalies' fault,” winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “So, a lot to learn from. Yeah, a lot to learn from.”

Barkov believes the Panthers learned just how good Edmonton can be at its best, with reigning and three-time MVP Connor McDavid leading the way, along with lessons about falling behind early. That happened Saturday night on a 2-on-1 short-handed rush three minutes in and speaks to what Tkachuk and coach Paul Maurice think the biggest issue was in defeat.

“There was an obvious theme in that game last night: They got to us off the rush in a big way,” Maurice said Sunday before flying back home. "They were strong and they pushed the rush game, and we didn’t handle the one on one in some ways and we lost a bit of coverage on some. But they were good, they were fast and we need to get ready to be better.”

Better Florida is exactly what the Oilers are expecting the next time the puck drops, knowing full well the Panthers are coming off their worst game of this entire playoffs and first loss since early in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers, which they won in six after falling behind 2-1 in that series.

“They’re going to be much more prepared for Game 5 than they were in Game 4,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said, citing the distractions his opponent dealt with in getting family and friends up to Alberta for a potential clincher. “Going back home, now that you have been beaten, they’re going to respond. They’re going to be better. What they do, I don’t know. I feel like we have a pretty good feel for what their team identity is and how they’re going to play, but we can’t control that."

The Panthers need to control their emotions in a situation a vast of majority of their players and coaches have never been in before. Maurice acknowledged that after Game 4 — the human element of dealing with the excitement of being one victory from accomplishing a lifelong dream that seemed to affect them.

Barkov brushed off the notion of the Stanley Cup being on the line serving as a distraction, even though losing the first chance to clinch a title is a common theme for teams across sports who have not yet experienced that challenge.

“The Cup is going to be in the building at some point anyway," Barkov said, “so we have to be ready for that.”

It will be Tuesday night, getting a fresh polish in case Florida can recapture what went right in Games 1 through 3 and Barkov gets the trophy from Commissioner Gary Bettman. That is a thought players are trying desperately to avoid dwelling on, preferring instead to focus on the task at hand with a still sizeable lead in the series.

“We’re in an unbelievable spot right now,” Tkachuk said. “Come back with a game plan in Game 5 and be ready to go and we’ll try to win it at home.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL