Greg Cote: Panthers will win 1st Stanley Cup unless Oilers party like it's 1942

Greg Cote, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

I would never, ever suggest that the Florida Panthers with a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final should get a jump on a parade plan. Or that the Edmonton Oilers don’t still have a chance.

I’ll let the math do the talking instead. (Canada, cover your eyes.)

Teams with a 3-0 series lead in NHL playoff history go on to win 98.1% of the time. Teams up 3-0 in the Final are 27-1 all time. The one and only team to blow it was the Detroit Red Wings ... in 1942. A brand new car cost $800.

The country that invented hockey last won a Stanley Cup in 1993, and that country must be weeping in June yet again.

On the bright side, Canada, there’s still curling, eh?

After Florida’s 4-3 Game 3 road victory Thursday night, the only drama that seems left in this Final is whether it will end with a sweep in Game 4 Saturday back in Edmonton — or if Panthers fans will get the chance to cheer the first Cup-lift in franchise history at home in Game 5 on Tuesday in the Sunrise barn.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovksy, Florida’s penalty kill and two-way star Aleksander Barkov have forged this 3-0 control.

In contrast, Edmonton’s stars have largely disappeared Connor McDavid has proved McOverrated (like a wise man once said) and Leon Draisaitl has been Dry-saital, neither scoring a goal in this Final. Also, Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner has been pretty bad, and defenseman Darnell Nurse has been worse.

It was a crazy game, with the Cats racing to a seemingly safe 4-1 lead before Edmonton desperately rallied late.

Edmonton enjoyed the better of play in the first period, stoked by starved fans cheering their first Stanley Cup Final home game since 2006 in search of their first championship since 1990.

But Florida ended the opening period with raised sticks and cheering.

It happened with only 1:02 left and on a 4-on-4, with each team in the penalty box after a populous skirmish. Captain Barkov — back after a dirty hit to the jaw shelved him near the end of Game 2 — began the scoring play with a takeaway at mid-ice. He fed Gustav Forsling, whose slap shot from distance turned into a redirected goal off Sam Reinhart’s stick in close.

Reinhart cashing was a welcome sight. He led the Cats with 57 season goals, second most in the NHL, but had been on a six-game postseason drought before making it 1-0.

Reinhart had said after Thursday’s morning skate, “It’s us against everybody.”


The Panthers are winning.

Two staples of Florida’s defense — and Stanley Cup run — again stood tall early, with Bobrovsky stopping everything, and with the Panthers penalty kill snuffing both Oilers power plays to render Edmonton 0 for 9 on the advantage in this Final.

Edmonton would tie it 1-1 early in the second when a breakaway left Warren Foegele with a 1-on-1 he cashed.

But the Panthers then scored three straight later in the second.

Vladimir Tarasenko made it 2-1 on a feed from Eetu Luostarinen when Skinner was caught out of the crease.

Sam Bennett high-shelf goal made it 3-1 off a gorgeous pass from Matthew Tkachuk.

And it was 4-1 when Barkov — fully healed, apparently — deftly converted a wonderful assist by Evan Rodrigues.

Edmonton drew within 4-2 in the third period on a Philip Broberg goal, and made it 4-3 on Roger McLeod’s shot with five minutes left in regulation.

But, for the third straight game, it was just a matter of time before the desperate Oilers would pull their goalie late. It happened with 1:49 left, and Florida held on, with Aaron Ekblad trapping the puck against the board for long, late seconds to snuff the Oilers’ last gasp.

Heady days, by the way, in the hallways of Chaminade Prep, a high school in St. Louis. Tkachuk went there. So did Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum. They were classmates and friends. Now both are one win away from the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals championship.

“Yeah it’s actually really cool when you think about it. Everyone from St. Louis, especially the kids we grew up with and families and people who know us, they’re pulling for both teams,” Tkachuk said. “It’s super cool to have that support back home for not only myself, but for the Celtics as well. I’m definitely cheering for him.”

Tatum shouted out Tkachuk earlier in the NBA Finals, saying, “I’m a big Matthew fan.”

Tatum has a chance to raise his trophy Friday night, one day before Tkachuk might do the same.

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