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Florida Panthers on edge as Edmonton Oilers grab momentum in Stanley Cup Final | Habib

Florida Panthers on edge as Edmonton Oilers grab momentum in Stanley Cup Final | Habib

SUNRISE — Uh-oh.

How can a team be down in a best-of-seven series when the standings say it’s up 3-2?

The Florida Panthers will wake up Wednesday morning wondering that. It’s Question No. 1 about a Stanley Cup Final in which nothing is as it seems.

Tuesday was to be the night the Panthers captured their first Stanley Cup. Instead, the Edmonton Oilers came to Amerant Bank Arena and did what they did in Rogers Place a few days earlier: They turned this series on its head, only this time the score was 5-3.

The Oilers didn’t just rain on the Panthers’ parade, they put all those plans for a parade in deep jeopardy. Of all the times a Cup Final began 3-0, only three previous times had the trailing team managed to take it to a Game 6. And never had a team done it by winning Game 5 on the road.

Edmonton’s Zach Hyman scores on Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

If the Oilers can manage all that, is it still farfetched to think they can’t become the second team in NHL history to go all the way after falling in a 3-0 series hole? Probably? Maybe? Who knows anymore?

One thing that is certain: Friday night, the Panthers and Oilers will be playing Game 6 in Edmonton. And if the Panthers can’t get the job done for the third consecutive time, everybody will be back in Sunrise on Monday for the ultimate crapshoot: Game 7.

That’s bad news for anyone who bet on Florida.

That’s great news for anyone with airline stock.

Prosperity and Panthers don’t go together these days.

The Panthers go up 3-0 in the series? Can’t close it out.

The Panthers go up a man on the power play? They give up shorthanded goals in bunches.

The Panthers outscore Edmonton 11-2 to start the Cup Final? Edmonton scores 13 of the next 14 goals.

Put it all together and it's only natural to wonder where the Panthers' heads are. We have an idea where General Manager Bill Zito's emotions are. TV cameras caught him tossing a water bottle in frustration.

Coach Paul Maurice said, "I'm not tired. I'm not rubbing backs. I don't think we need that at all. Everybody feels probably exactly the way I do right now. I'm not feeling deflated. Leaders of the hockey team, they're not feeling deflated. Only grumpy."

Jack Nicklaus beats the drum to start the night

“LET’S GET THIS DONE,” said the message on the video boards before puck drop. With Jack Nicklaus beating the drum to lead cheers, the arena was electric.

Just over five minutes in, the electricity short-circuited. Short-handed, to be more precise, because a weak cross-ice pass by Brandon Montour handed Connor Brown a breakaway goal against Sergei Bobrovsky for a 1-0 lead.

Already, the uneasiness in the stands was palpable, probably because fans had seen this movie before. It was the fifth shorthanded goal Florida had allowed in the playoffs. This from a team that prided itself on special teams in the regular season.

"That's an excellent question, truly," Maurice said when asked about the rash of shorthanded goals. "And we'll fix it. That's how I feel about it. We can fix it."

Amerant Bank Arena was turning library quiet by early in the second period. After the Oilers cashed in on a power play, Connor McDavid managed to squeeze one past Bobrovsky, who thought he had the post covered when in fact there was daylight between his skate and the post. It wasn’t just that the Oilers had a 3-0 lead; they had done it by holding the listless Panthers without a shot on goal for the final 14 minutes of the first period.

How confident can a team be entering any game down 3-1 in a series? Not nearly as confident as the Oilers came out of this one.

“Definitely,” Edmonton defenseman Evan Bouchard said. “We knew we had some confidence. We knew what we have in the room. We bent but we didn’t break.”

Matthew Tkachuk wakes up the crowd

Jun 18, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk (19) celebrates scoring against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Skinner Stuart (74) with defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) during the second period in game five of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Tkachuk awakened the crowd with his first goal in 15 games. Even after McDavid fed Corey Perry on the power play to restore the three-goal lead, it took the Panthers 14 seconds to answer via Evan Rodrigues.

Towels were waving. The volume was up. Florida carried the momentum into the third period on a goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but that was as close as it got. Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart had good looks on Stuart Skinner’s net but shot wide. McDavid’s empty-netter had fans heading for the exits. All that remained was a scattering of Edmonton fans saying they’d be back for Game 7.

The Panthers’ lethargy to open the game was too much to overcome. Too many sloppy passes. Not enough hitting. No shots to challenge Skinner.

More: Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and Florida Panthers' Matthew Tkachuk were classmates

In a matter of four days, what seemed like a lock is how hanging by a thread. The Oilers know they can score on Bobrovsky after all. They know taking a penalty is no big deal, maybe even a plus. They know their power play can be as effective as Florida’s is ineffective. And they know everybody is about to hop another long flight to Alberta.

“Home ice is definitely going to help us,” Bouchard said.

Here’s the one thing nobody knows: whether the Panthers can flip momentum in this wacky series the way the Oilers just did.

"Every series we talk about what we want our game seven to look like," Maurice said. "Nothing's changed for us. We didn't get the result that we wanted. We were no good in the game before. We were pretty darn good here tonight. That's how we're going north."

Dolphins reporter Hal Habib can be reached at  hhabib@pbpost.com. Follow him on social media @gunnerhal. Click here to subscribe.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida Panthers again fail as Oilers grab momentum in Stanley Cup Final

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