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Edmonton Oilers look to regroup after 'encouraging' loss in Stanley Cup opener

Edmonton bagged plenty of looks in Florida's 3-0 victory to open the Stanley Cup final. The club knows it must bear down even harder to tie the series Monday in Game 2.
Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins speaks to the media following Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup final against the Florida Panthers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sunday, June 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

FORT LAUDERDALE — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a one-on-one chance with Sergei Bobrovsky late in Saturday's first period.

The Oilers forward — the team's longest-serving player, one who endured some of the franchise's darkest days — was stoned by the Florida Panthers goaltender with a full-stretch pad save.

Nugent-Hopkins then got an opportunity on another power play in the second, but fired high with Bobrovsky at his mercy.

Edmonton bagged plenty of looks in Florida's 3-0 victory to open the Stanley Cup final. The club knows it must bear down even harder to tie the series Monday in Game 2.

"It's encouraging, in some ways, the way that we played," Nugent-Hopkins said of the Oilers' 32-shot performance. "You want to stack up as many wins as you can as early as you can … but it's a best-of-seven and it's a race to four.

"We did a lot of good things. We couldn't find a way to beat them."

Edmonton trailed 2-0 after 40 minutes despite outshooting the Panthers 25-12 before the home side started to find its footing in the third.

Much like the chances that fell to Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers captain Connor McDavid, forward Adam Henrique and defenceman Evan Bouchard all had terrific opportunities on Bobrovsky.

"Not gripping our sticks too tight," Edmonton centre Leon Draisaitl said Sunday of the approach moving forward during a media availability at the Panthers' practice facility. "Continuing to play loose and continuing to play our game."

The fact Florida won despite being second-best for large chunks of Game 1, however, has to be a concern.

"They're just going to be better," Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said. "We'll see more from them."

Edmonton defenceman Mattias Ekholm said despite the loss, his team answered some questions about its ability to keep up with the Panthers, who bested the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final and are in the title series a second time in 12 months.

"You always come in and you have your doubts," Ekholm said. "But I think our best is good enough. It's a matter of getting there every night. That's the hard part."

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said there's an urgency to get to their own level quicker Monday.

"We know we need to be better," he said. "Edmonton is an unbelievable team, they have so much skill in their lineup. It's going to be tough."

Connor Brown added there's "no panic" in the Oilers' camp.

"We had a great process," said the winger. "Just keep at it and keep pounding at the door and good things will happen."

Edmonton, a team that started the season a disastrous 2-9-1, has been here before. The group trailed the Vancouver Canucks 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in the second round before falling behind the Dallas Stars 2-1 in Western Conference final.

The Oilers responded each time. They'll need another pushback Monday — or face a deep hole when the series shifts to Alberta's capital for Games 3 and 4.

"A great trait of ours throughout the whole season," Nugent-Hopkins said of Edmonton's ability to bounce back. "We don't take it for granted thinking that it's going to happen. We know they're going to step up. We're going to have to step our game up.

"That's why you prepare for it throughout the season — for moments like this."


Oilers winger Evander Kane is playing through a sports hernia and has just one assist in his last eight playoff games.

"Maybe not showing up on the scoresheet as much as he has in the past," Knoblauch said of the 32-year-old. "But still contributing to our team. I don't think we'd be in the Stanley Cup final if Evander hadn't been playing throughout the playoffs."


The defence pair of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci was on the ice for two goals against in Game 1 before Panthers iced it late into the empty net.

Knoblauch said the data shows Edmonton's under-fire duo, which was reunited Saturday, is playing better than traditional stats indicate.

"If you look at actual goals scored for and against, it's not favourable," Knoblauch said. "The expected goals for and against … doesn't paint the same picture at all. Completely different. We're always balancing what's best for those two players. But also what's best for all six of our defencemen."


Barkov is one of four Finnish-born players on Florida's roster that includes forwards Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen, and defenceman Niko Mikkola.

"You can talk in your own language," Barkov said. "We're chasing the same goal, working as hard as possible every single day.

"Definitely special."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2024.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press