How an unlikely hero helped the Panthers go up 2-0 on the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final: 5 takeaways

SUNRISE, Fla. — Evan Rodrigues, who entered this postseason with just 16 games of playoff experience, scored twice in the third period Monday night and now has three goals in two games in the Stanley Cup Final, helping the Florida Panthers take a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard, who also took two penalties in the game, handed the puck right to Rodrigues in the left circle for the winger’s first goal of the night and fifth of the playoffs early in the third. That one held up to be the game-winner.

The game-sealing goal, though, came after Leon Draisaitl leaped in the air and stuck his right forearm into captain Aleksander Barkov’s face later in the third. Barkov was on the ice for a while, then tried to stand up and fell back down. He didn’t return. On the ensuing power play, Rodrigues made Draisaitl pay for the penalty by scoring the first power-play goal against the Oilers in 12 games.

It was a chore of a game for the Oilers, who essentially played without two players.

Warren Foegele was kicked out in the first period for kneeing Eetu Luostarinen, and Darnell Nurse played just seven shifts after injuring his left leg in the first period on a Rodrigues check.

Mattias Ekholm scored for the Oilers, and Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad (on an empty net) had the Panthers’ other two goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 18 saves for his 14th postseason win and the Panthers’ fifth playoff win in a row.

On Ekholm’s goal, Connor McDavid picked up his 27th assist, tying him with Nikita Kucherov (2020) for third in a single postseason in NHL history. McDavid, pointless in Game 1, has not gone more than one game without a point in these playoffs. He has tallied seven assists and nine points in five games after being held without a point in the 2024 playoffs, including three multi-point games.

Game 3 is in Edmonton on Thursday night.

Here are five quick takeaways from Game 2.

Nurse nursing injury

Nurse hasn’t had a great postseason and has taken a lot of heat for it. That minus-15 rating sure isn’t pretty. The Oilers need more from him — and that can only happen if he’s playing.

He didn’t do much of that Monday.

Nurse left the game 8:23 into the first, immediately grabbing his left hip after the check by Rodrigues, which took place in the corner to the left of Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner. That was his fourth shift, one that lasted 13 seconds. He’d skated 2:18 to that point.

Nurse spent the rest of the period in the dressing room. He returned to the ice to start the second period but went back down the tunnel. He continued testing out his injury during TV timeouts. He played one shift in the second period and two in the third but was limited to just 4:20 in the game.

The Oilers managed with just five defensemen in Nurse’s extended absences. Cody Ceci is the next man up if Nurse’s ailment prevents him from playing Game 3. It’s worth noting that Nurse played through a torn hip flexor in the 2022 playoffs.

Panthers waste major power play

The Panthers got the opportunity to blow Game 2 open midway through the first period when Foegele was assessed a five-minute penalty and game misconduct for kneeing Luostarinen. But despite a tremendous start to the game and allowing no shots on goal to that juncture, the Panthers’ recently struggling power play managed no shots on the first 1:37 of the major before Oliver Ekman-Larsson negated the next two minutes with a costly tripping penalty on Mattias Janmark.

Nineteen seconds into the four-on-four, Ekholm scored on Edmonton’s first shot of the game through Bobrovsky’s five-hole. When the major resumed, the Panthers couldn’t tie the score and only managed one shot.

Edmonton’s 34-game penalty kill streak ended later, though, with Rodrigues’ goal in the third.

Foegele’s ejection alters lineup

There was much made about Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch’s roster tweaking heading into Game 2. We knew coming in that Ceci was going to be a healthy scratch for the first time in his Oilers career via the coach’s decision and Vincent Desharnais was his replacement.

It seemed that there were going to be alterations up front, too. And there were plenty. Adam Henrique moved to Draisaitl’s left wing from fourth-line center. Sam Carrick took Henrique’s spot there. Evander Kane dropped to the third line, which meant Foegele slid over to right wing, which bumped veteran Corey Perry to the press box for the sixth time this postseason.

Well, we barely saw any of those changes in action.

As mentioned, in addition to Nurse’s injury, the Oilers lost Foegele with the major. Luostarinen remained down on the ice as a scrum ensued and went down the tunnel. He returned to action soon after.

Foegele getting booted left the Oilers with 11 forwards, including a clearly laboring Kane, for the rest of the game. They leaned heavily on their star forwards, and the bottom six was essentially a mishmash for the duration.

Mikkola, the Oilers killer

Mikkola, the towering Panthers defenseman, is known for his physicality and defensive game, but the Oilers have to hate playing against him for his offense, too. He has become an Oilers slayer of sorts, with three of his 10 career goals against Edmonton.

On Monday, it was his blast from the left circle on Anton Lundell’s drop pass that tied the score at 1-1 with his second goal of the playoffs. At the time, 9:34 into the second, the Oilers had just five shots on goal total. In fact, Bobrovsky’s best save of the night came right before Mikkola’s goal when he robbed Mikkola of an own goal when the defenseman surprised him with a careless spinning shot on his own net.

Skinner on an island

In a game in which the Oilers had four shots in the first period and three in the second, Skinner did a good job keeping Edmonton alive. He denied Florida 21 times on 22 shots in the first 40 minutes, including one second-period flurry where he robbed Matthew Tkachuk and Brandon Montour. On one second-period power play, he did the same to Sam Bennett, point-blank.

At five-on-five, Natural Stat Trick had the scoring chances at 10-6 in favor of Florida for the game and 4-0 on high-danger chances.

(Photo of Evan Rodrigues: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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