FORT LAUDERDALE – They always say it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

But for the Florida Panthers, a good start is something they’d certainly like to have.

After racing out to a commanding 3-0 lead over the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final, the heated series is now 3-2 heading back to Rogers Place for Game 6 on Friday.

Just as it was during their 8-1 loss in Game 4, the Panthers dug themselves an early hole against the Oilers in Game 5 by giving up a shorthanded goal within the first six minutes.

Losing some early momentum, the Panthers went on to fall behind 4-1 at one point before making a late push – as they always do – in an eventual 5-3 loss to the Oilers on Tuesday.

While games aren’t won and lost in the first period, better starts will be key moving forward.

“Shorties always hurt you,” head coach Paul Maurice said following Wednesday’s media availability at Baptist Health IcePlex. “That’s clearly not what we’d like to do. You’ve got the exactment of a rare power play, and you get out there and end up digging it out of your net.”

In the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers are 2-1 when scoring first.

One of those ice-breaking goals came during a 4-3 win at Rogers Place in Game 3 when Sam Reinhart scored to send the Panthers ahead 1-0 with just 1:02 left in the first period.

Looking ahead to Game 6, it’s a start they’ll hope to replicate in a tough road environment.

“We’ve got to be a little sharper to start,” forward Sam Bennett said.


In the areas of the game in which they can control – i.e. things that officials aren’t able to influence – the Panthers liked how they matched up against the Oilers for most of Game 5.

Greatly reducing the number of rush opportunities they allowed in Game 4, the Panthers controlled much of the action at 5-on-5, finishing with lopsided advantages in shots on goal (25-14), shot attempts (54-21) and scoring chances (24-10), per NaturalStatTrick.com.

Florida also boasted a big edge in expected goals (2.68-0.76).

"I'm watching Game 5 and I'm good with so much of it,” Maurice said. “I feel right about it on the bench. The bench is right. Then you have a bunch of things kind of go against you, but they weren't thematic to the game."

As you’d expect, the goal is now to take special teams out of the equation in Game 6.

Despite being unable to dictate much of the play at 5-on-5, the Oilers feasted on special teams in Game 5, scoring a pair of goals on the power play and one while shorthanded.

“I thought at 5-on-5 we played really well,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “That’s something to build off. We want to keep it 5-on-5. We want to stay out of the box.”


Oliver Ekman-Larsson was flying in Game 5.

In addition to teeing up a pass from Tkachuk and burying a one-timer in the third period to cut Florida’s deficit to 4-3, the 32-year-old veteran also shined in the possession-side of the game, helping the team lead 22-5 in shot attempts when he was deployed at 5-on-5.

For his efforts, Ekman-Larsson was also moved up to the top power-play unit.

“You see the veteran rise to the occasion and his excitement,” Maurice said. “That’s not just in the game. You see it in practice and moving around the rink. This is big for him, right? He’s been in the league a long time. He’s very, very excited. Then there are players that just kind of embrace it and you get to see their best. He’s skating as well as he’s skated all year.”

Inking a one-year deal with the Panthers after being bought out by the Vancouver Canucks last summer, Ekman-Larsson also had an exceptional regular season, racking up 32 points – his most since the 2018-19 campaign – while manning the blue line in 80 of 82 games.

“It’s been great for him,” Maurice said.

As for Game 6, the battle-tested defenseman will look to continue leading by example.

“He’s playing with no fear,” Maurice said. “It’s great leadership.”


Pop quiz!

Who leads the Panthers in goals and points in the Stanley Cup Final?

If you guessed Evan Rodrigues, congratulations.

Notching a goal and a primary assist in Game 5 after moving to the second line, the 30-year-old forward now leads the Panthers in goals (4) and points (6) against the Oilers.

Additionally, Florida leads 7-0 in goals when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5 in the series.

When asked about this breakout, Maurice said it started “six or seven weeks ago.”

“His game, he just became more impactful with everything he did, and he’s continued it,” Maurice said of Rodrigues. “We’ve moved him around. Now, it seems wherever he goes, it seems to get the people he’s playing with going. He’s become that kind of player for us.”

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