scfgm2 fla column

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Evan Rodrigues was told he could step down off the podium. The forward declined, sitting side by side with Florida Panthers teammate Niko Mikkola in front of the assembled media as Monday turned to Tuesday, as the questions switched from English to Finnish. His grin widened as he tossed in a “Kiitos” -- thank you in Finnish -- while Mikkola smiled and nodded along.

It was clear that Rodrigues was having fun.

And why wouldn’t he be? The well-traveled forward, who is on his fourth team in five seasons, has found a home with the Panthers, becoming a valuable and valued piece of a team that now sits two wins from the Stanley Cup.

Rodrigues scored twice in the third period on Monday, including the game-winning goal, to help the Panthers go up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers. That makes three goals for Rodrigues in two games in the Final and six goals, to go along with five assists, in 19 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“So good. So happy for him. So proud of him,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “He was awesome. Playing with him the last few games, he reads the game so well. That’s two games in a row scoring some big goals for us. He’s a super smart player and I’m really happy to see him get rewarded right now.”

EDM@FLA SCF, Gm2: Rodrigues capitalizes on turnover for lead in 3rd period

The Panthers had gone into the third period tied with the Oilers at 1-1, courtesy of a goal from Mikkola at 9:34 of the second period.

That boded well for the Panthers, who have taken over and clamped down in third period after third period this postseason. It has been when they take control. And, thanks in large part to Rodrigues, it happened yet again on Monday.

On his goal that made it 2-1 at 3:11, Rodrigues had skated the puck along the outside of the left circle and attempted a pass to Sam Bennett in the slot. It didn’t work, with the puck hitting the stick of Oilers forward Connor Brown and deflecting to Evan Bouchard. However, the Oilers defenseman knocked it right back to Rodrigues, who didn’t hesitate.

He put it on net.

“Got in on the forecheck, looked up, tried to make a play, tried to find the slot and almost got myself in a little bit of a pickle trying to look to make a play versus moving my feet,” Rodrigues said. “Puck came back to me and at that point, I’m not making that mistake again. So, I just kind of fired it on net and it went through a couple legs.”

The goal allowed the Panthers to work their best magic in the third, limiting the Oilers and building their own lead. That, too, came courtesy of Rodrigues, who scored again at 12:26 to give Florida some room to breathe.

“It’s special,” Rodrigues said. “Try and embrace it. Try and stay in the moment. It’s two big wins for our team.”

EDM@FLA SCF, Gm2: Rodrigues nets his second tally of game with PPG

Rodrigues, who has hopped around the League since being acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Buffalo Sabres at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, found a measure of security in Florida when he signed on July 2, 2023. The four-year contract would give him and his family stability.

He’s earned it.

The 30-year-old had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 80 games this season, four shy of his career high he set in 2021-22. And he has been an invaluable asset, flexible and accommodating, able to shape shift from the first line on down.

“I think he’s a bit of a chameleon,” said Kyle Okposo, who also played with Rodrigues for four seasons in Buffalo. “If you look at the teams that he’s played on and who he’s played with, it’s not an easy thing to go play with some of the top players in the world. He has a unique confidence about him. Where at times when guys are playing with those top guys they just want to give them the puck and get out of their way, Evan is a guy that he makes a lot of plays and he has the confidence to keep it on his stick and make the right play at the right time.”

SCF, Gm2: Oilers @ Panthers Recap

And though Panthers coach Paul Maurice took a slight issue with that comment -- saying that, at times, he did think Rodrigues deferred to Aleksander Barkov when the two played on a line together -- he praised Rodrigues’ ability to play on just about every line, in just about every situation. He has found his confidence and his game, and it is exactly what the Panthers have needed from him.

Two Stanley Cup Final games, three goals.

Two wins.

And those three goals that Rodrigues has scored not only puts him atop the series lead, they are more than the Oilers trio of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman combined.

"It's pretty cool,” Rodrigues said. “I'm not too worried about the point totals or goals. At the end of the day, we're looking for wins here and, yeah, that's all I care about. It's nice to contribute. It's nice to contribute to a win. And yeah, that's what we're here to do, and it could be any player on any given day. Just, again, happy with the results we've gotten the first two games and start getting ready for Game 3 now."

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