Ugly loss for Panthers in Game 4

EDMONTON -- When Paul Maurice was asked how he felt when he woke up on Saturday morning, the Florida Panthers coach couldn’t help but try to suppress a smile. He was mere hours away from trying to take hold -- literally and figuratively -- of a trophy he had been yearning and working toward for 30 years, with the Panthers one win away from the Stanley Cup.

“Felt pretty good,” he said.

That was, for the Panthers, the best part of the day.

From nearly puck drop, the Edmonton Oilers outplayed the Panthers, their sheer desperation overwhelming the desire the Panthers had to close out the Stanley Cup Final in a four-game sweep. Instead, the series will shift back to Florida for Game 5 on Tuesday, with the Panthers leading 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, with another chance for the Panthers to wrap up the Cup they weren’t able to win Saturday at Rogers Place.

“You just reestablish your game and you come back into the fight,” Maurice said, after the 8-1 loss. “I’ll fire up at least one cliché for you, so you have something there: We came into Edmonton to get a split. We got what we needed.

“But there’s a reason for that: Most cliches have some merit to it. In general, things will be far more extreme outside your room than inside. So at 3-0, we’re not sitting there getting the engravers out. We lost the game tonight. I’m pretty sure -- I’ve got to check, possibly -- but there’s going to be a Game 5.”

There will indeed, with Game 5 set for Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

But, first, there’s much to unpack from Game 4, a game in which the Stanley Cup was in the building, but left again, unclaimed.

“We either win or we learn and I think we learned a lot from this game,” captain Aleksander Barkov said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Maurice, who said, “This is our first one of these. We either win or we learn. If we’re really lucky, we win and we learn. Didn’t happen tonight.”

The Oilers won in convincing fashion, knocking goalie Sergei Bobrovsky out of the game at 4:59 of the second period, doing everything they hadn’t done as the Panthers built up that 3-0 lead after the first three games of the series. They scored on the power play. They got production from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They found their rush game.

The Panthers, meanwhile, fell apart.

“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Barkov said. “So that's the end result. We lost. We’ve got to figure out now what we can do better and what we did well. That's not the first time we lost in the playoffs.”

SCF, Gm4: Panthers @ Oilers Recap

After the Oilers had gone up by a 2-0 score, the first goal coming shorthanded by Mattias Janmark at 3:11, the second by Adam Henrique at 7:48, the Panthers got one back, a chance to make a game out of it. Vladimir Tarasenko tipped a point shot from Gustav Forsling at 11:26 of the first period and they were right back in it.

But then the Oilers got a heck of a save, maybe a game-saving save, from Stuart Skinner on Carter Verhaeghe at 12:05 of the first, when the game was still at 2-1, and the Oilers added a goal at 14:48 and went into the first intermission up by two.

The rest of the game was simply the Oilers pouring more and more gas on the fire.

“It doesn’t matter how much you lose, like 2-1 or 8-1 or you win 2-1 or 8-1,” Barkov said. “It counts as one win.”

The Panthers, normally a stout defensive team, struggled to defend the rush game of the Oilers and struggled to contain their big-name scorers, the same ones who had gone quiet over the first three games of the series.

“There’s many things we can do a lot better,” Barkov said. “We probably got outworked. They got too many rush chances. I think we’ve always been good at defending rushes and I think they got some rush chances that we didn’t need to give up. But the game’s over now. All we need to do is just recover and think about the next one.”

Or, as Maurice put it simply, “I would suggest that usually the end result is just. Usually. So we didn’t deserve to win that game.”

They couldn’t stop the rush. They didn’t win the game.

“We haven’t lost a game in a while until tonight, so at the end of the day, just back to the drawing board,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “When we win, we learn from it and we put it aside. If you lose, same thing. We’re in an unbelievable spot right now. Came here after all that craziness and got a split. We’re going home in front of our unbelievable fans that are so excited to see us and we’re so excited to play in front of them.”

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