Dave Hyde: Panthers' stars shine again, Edmonton's don't -- and South Florida is one win from the Cup

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Hockey

When it came to the big play, the breath-taker, the game-saving moment when the Florida Panthers needed one, there was goalie Sergei Bobrovsky making it again in the final minutes Thursday night in a way that said you can relax. He’s got this. They’ve all got this, really.

It’s not certain if it happens Saturday in Game 4 in Edmonton, or maybe Game 5 on Tuesday back in Sunrise. But as you watched the Panthers win a third straight game against Edmonton 4-3, the headline wasn’t just that they’re one win from the Stanley Cup.

It’s why they are. It’s how they’re doing it. It wasn’t just Bobrovsky, even if it starts with him to the point he’s one more good game from winning the Conn Smythe as the NHL playoffs most valuable player.

There also was Aleksander Barkov, one game after being cheap-shotted to the ice, setting up one goal and scoring another. There was Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett and Gustav Forsling and — well, go down the list of big-name Panthers. They were all over this Game 3.

So, again on Thursday, there was something expansive and enlightening about the two teams’ performance that underlines why the Panthers are on the doorstep of the championship with a 3-0 series lead.

The Panthers’ stars are shining.

Edmonton’s stars are sinking.

It’s as simple that. It’s as confounding as that for Edmonton, too. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are looking for their first goal. Edmonton’s top two stars have been shut out, if not quite shut down, considering all their good chances that Bobrvosky has stopped.

This is how the Panthers do it. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov in the first round? Boston’s David Pastrnak in the second round? The New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin in the third round? They were kept off the scoresheet just as Edmonton’s top names have been.

The Panthers are so good about their business it doesn’t matter where they skate. Thursday was like playing in a snow-globe of orange and blue, a world where as Matthew Tkachuk said, “The mindset is 20 guys against everyone.”

When introduced to a province’s resplendent boos, Panthers coach Paul Maurice mouthed, “Thank you.”

Bobrovsky sat there, saying something to himself, or singing something. He already was in his own world. Bob’s World is one where he does breathing and eye exercises before the game. He doesn’t talk to teammates. In an emotional game, he’s drained of surface emotion.

He also showed again from the start the best way to meet Edmonton’s wall of noise. It wasn’t the Panthers’ best period. McDavid, Edmonton’s top star, had a point-blank shot in the first minute. Bobrovsky stopped it.


Edmonton’s second big gun, Draisaitl, took a cross-ice pass and one-timed it. Bobrovsky stopped it.

McDavid had two more golden chances. Bobrovsky won again.

Do you see what was at work again this series? Bobrovsky made 13 saves in the first period, including five on two Edmonton power plays, to hold the line until the Panthers had their moment.

Barkov, back on the ice after the nasty hit by Draisaitl in Game 2, kept the puck from Evan Bouchard near the boards in the kind of little battle that led to a big story. Barkov passed to Forsling in open space. Forsling shot the puck so Reinhart, skating to the net, could tip it past goalie Stuart Skinner.

Bobrovsky, you see, made the stops for much of the first period that Skinner didn’t. Then, well, it was Eetu Luostarinen, another Panther laid out by an illegal Edmonton hit in Game 2, digging out a puck behind the Oilers net and feeding Vladimir Tarasenko to make it 2-1.

“Their goalie made some nice saves, they dump the puck in and we’re down 2-1,’’ Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said. “That’s a tough one.”

Tkachuk fed Bennett for a second-period goal, and more Panthers’ stars were coming up big. When Barkov scored on a breakaway to make it 4-1, it looked like Edmonton was close to cracking on the night and in the series.

“We knew they’d come out with everything they had in the third period,’’ Barkov said.

Edmonton scored twice to add some tension in the final minutes. But the Panthers made the necessary plays, just as they have all playoffs. Bobrovsky didn’t even have to make a save for the last 90 seconds as the defense stood their ice.

So, the Panthers got the win, just as they have all this series. It’s simple why it’s happening, too. The Panthers stars keep playing like stars. So, they’ve got this. They’re in control of the series and, soon, the Cup.

The biggest question left seems to be where they win it.

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