scfgm6_fla offense struggles

EDMONTON -- When the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final came to a close, the Florida Panthers were leading the Edmonton Oilers by three goals and riding a huge wave of momentum.

But after scoring 11 goals through the first eight periods of the Cup Final, the Panthers’ offense has been anemic. They’ve scored five goals in the past 10 periods. Their top players have been quiet. Everyone in a Panthers uniform has been, really. 

And if they don’t rekindle their offense, the Panthers could end up being on the frustrating side of history.

“I think they’ve kind of disconnected us,” Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues said after their 5-1 loss to the Oilers Game 6 of the Final at Rogers Place on Friday. 

“They’ve rimmed a lot of pucks out of the zone and tried to just spread us out. They’re doing a good job of it. We have to come together, we have to stick together and it has to be defense first.”

The Panthers, who had a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series on June 13, are now tied 3-3 going back to Amerant Bank Arena, where Game 7 will be on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

The Panthers are trying to avoid being the second team in NHL history to lose in the Cup Final after having a 3-0 lead. The last time it happened was 1942, when the Toronto Maple Leafs came back from that deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.

Other than the two third-period goals they scored in a 4-3 loss in Game 5, and coach Paul Maurice said “There was a score effect to that,” not much has gone the Panthers’ way offensively the past three games.

Game 6 proved to be the latest night of frustration for the Panthers. That was especially true for their forwards, who didn’t get a shot on goal through the first half of the game. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the Panthers’ only two shots of the first period, one from 170 feet away from Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, the next 52 feet from him. Defensemen Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour also had early shots.

Center Aleksander Barkov broke the forward drought with his wrist shot on a Panthers power play at 11:55 of the second period.

“Well, they’re playing really well,” Barkov said. “They play really well defensively. They’re fast. They’re generating a lot of offense. So, obviously, we need to be better. There are things in the games that we’ve done really well and there are things that we need to get better at.”

Florida’s power play is also having a difficult time. After going 14-for-60 (23.3 percent) through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Panthers are 1-for-19 (5.3 percent) in six games against the Oilers.

Their lone power-play goal came from Rodrigues at 12:26 of the third period of Game 2.

“I think we’re lacking a little bit of offensive speed, and that would be true of our 5-on-5 game,” Maurice said. “We’re getting jammed into corners. So, we’ll look at places where we can generate speed or keep our speed.”

They’ll also need to see why their top players are being shut down.

Center Carter Verhaeghe hasn’t had a goal since Game 1 against the Oilers. His assist on Barkov’s goal at 1:28 of the third period on Friday is his only other point in this series. Forward Matthew Tkachuk has one goal in this series, in Game 5 on Tuesday. Center Sam Reinhart, who led the Panthers with 57 goals in the regular season, has one against the Oilers (Game 3). 

“They came out hungrier than us,” Verhaeghe said. “They wanted it and that was kind of it. We didn’t really get to our forecheck off the start, and they took to us, so I think it’s for us to get better and I think we need some better starts.”

The Panthers need everything to be better in Game 7. It’s been quite the turn of events for them, especially on offense. This is their last chance to get it together.

“I think they’re just doing a good job defensively, blocking a lot of shots and keeping us outside,” Panthers forward Eetu Luostarinen said. “That’s about it.”

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