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Florida Panthers beat Edmonton Oilers in first game of Stanley Cup final

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SUNRISE – Sergei Bobrovsky was the big star of the show early in the Stanley Cup Final, making 32 saves to help the Florida Panthers beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Saturday night and take a 1-0 series lead.

Bobrovsky stopped 14 shots in the first period and helped the Panthers survive the Oilers' offensive.

“He's just been incredible,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “His preparation is incredible. His work ethic, his character, he's just everything you want in a teammate and especially a goalie. He's everything.”

Carter Verhaeghe put them ahead 3:59 into the first period, firing home a pass from Aleksander Barkov across the crease. From there, Florida had to fight back well as Bobrovsky saved shot after shot in a half in which Edmonton led 12-4 in scoring chances and 7-1 in high-risk chances.

Evan Rodrigues increased the lead to two goals 3:16 minutes into the second half, giving the Panthers a lead.

Eetu Luostarinen sealed the deal with a goal into the empty net towards the end of the third period.

“I think we can definitely be better,” Verhaeghe said after a game in which the Panthers lost shots on goal 32-18. “There are always things we can improve and I think after a week off we will definitely win. But yes, of course they had more shots on goal than us, had a lot more chances than us and we blocked them, defended well, but there are always things we can improve. We slowly got used to our opponent after the first game and figured them out and it's just nice to get the win.”

Here are three takeaways from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final:

Bobrovsky shines when under pressure

Throughout the playoffs, the Panthers allowed 24.5 shots per game, the fewest of any team that advanced past the first round. That changed when they faced the powerful Oilers.

By the end of the second period, Bobrovsky had already blocked 26 shots. And he was able to block every single one. And 13 of them were highly dangerous opportunities.

His numbers in the first three rounds didn't seem to be great – a .908 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average – but when it came to the cup final, he delivered. Of course, he knows it won't be easy.

“They have an elite offense,” Bobrovsky said. “It's just the first game … it's a long series.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice subsequently praised his experienced goalkeeper.

“I think that's the game that most goalies are used to over time,” Maurice said. “The higher volume, more consistency. And that was definitely the case in the first two periods. But that's really the advantage for us, having a guy who has seen it all at this point in his career. He's had some quiet periods, he's had very, very busy nights and he's clearly capable of playing at a high level in both.”

Panthers stop Oilers power play

One of the biggest questions heading into the series was how the Panthers would cope with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the power play of Edmonton's elite. They entered the series with a league-leading 37.3 percent shooting percentage.

In the first game, the Panthers had the advantage. They managed to eliminate Edmonton 3 of 3 shorthanded games and allowed seven shots on goal and five high-risk chances.

Florida's aggressive penalty killing style frustrated Edmonton at times, as the Panthers overran passing lanes and besieged the Oilers whenever they got into the zone. But when they got those shots on goal, Bobrovsky was brilliant, stopping all seven of those shots, including four on high-risk opportunities.

“These killers have kept their game consistent,” Maurice said. “There are nights where you'd say the players were the catalyst, but tonight it was Sergei. But that's all part of it, right? Rarely do you play a power play like that — the only one that came close was probably Tampa, right — those elite shooters that you're not going to get through that penalty kill without the goalie having to make the difference at some point.”

Barkov shines on both sides of the ice

Aleksander Barkov has distinguished himself and shown the world that he is one of the most exceptional talents on hockey's biggest stage.

More: Stanley Cup Final: How the Florida Panthers eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 | Schad

He opened the game with a spectacular assist, sending a pass across the crease in limited space to Verhaeghe, who scored the game's first goal, before proving why he won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward for the second time in his career this year.

Barkov was crucial to Florida's shorthanded game as he stuck to his guns on all zone entries and made one big play after another with his stick. He led by example and the rest of the group followed suit to give the Panthers their first Stanley Cup Final series lead in franchise history.

More: Stanley Cup: Mark Messier saw Oilers and Rangers in the final, but the Florida Panthers ruined that idea

“He's an absolute elite player,” Rodrigues said. “He's a 60-yard player, so he's everything you want in a first-line center that you can build your team around. He does everything right. He's got an elite stick, he plays physical, he picks his positions and he's an elite player offensively. I can't say enough good things about him and I love being on his team.”

Anna Harden

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