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Following the Florida Panthers3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, many believed the Oilers would come out strong to start Game 2. They did, with Mattias Ekholm scoring the club’s first goal of the Final.

After that, it was all Panthers.

Evan Rodrigues scored two goals, Florida limited Edmonton to 19 shots on goal, and the Oilers’ vaunted power play was once again held scoreless.

Here’s what stood out in Florida’s second straight victory, as well as key players to watch in Game 3 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN+) and the biggest lingering questions.

Panthers grade: A

Florida put on a clinic of sorts in Game 2. Edmonton managed just seven shots on net through the first two periods — compared to 22 off the Panthers’ sticks — and Florida’s top units were rolling over the Oilers’ best players.

The Panthers were smothering from the start, and stopped Edmonton from gaining any significant traction even after the Oilers opened scoring with a 4-on-4 goal. Florida made Edmonton pay for every mistake — like Evan Bouchard‘s awful turnover that led to Evan Rodrigues’ winning goal. The Oilers never seemed to recover from that snafu, and the harder they tried to compensate, the more Florida settled into their own groove and dictated pace in the game.

Edmonton’s frustration boiled over by the end, and Florida kept pressing until the final buzzer. It’s hard to fathom what, exactly, can stop the Panthers now.


Oilers grade: D

There wasn’t just one issue, there were several for the Oilers.

It started with being held to seven shots through the first two periods, which tied a record for the fewest shots through the first two frames of a Stanley Cup Final game. They didn’t reach double digits until there was 16:05 left in the third period.

Even when they broke through to have 12 shots in the final frame, they gave up two goals before the Panthers scored an empty-netter late in the third. Keep in mind, that’s with having a shot share of 71% in the third frame in 5-on-5 play.

And if all that wasn’t enough, they also struggled to insulate Stuart Skinner. While the Oilers have worked to consistently limit opponents, Skinner has shown he can handle a heavier workload and his team can still win. The Oilers were 5-1 in games in which Skinner faced more than 25 shots this postseason, a mark that now drops to 5-2.


What we learned in Game 2

The Panthers have depth for days

Sure, it would be easy to quibble about Florida’s power play going 1-for-6 against an excellent Edmonton penalty kill that had killed 34 straight man-advantage attempts until Rodrigues scored a third-period, power-play goal. But that’s just it; Florida has skaters on every line capable of making a difference.

Rodrigues scored twice in the Panthers’ victory, while defenseman Niko Mikkola grabbed the other goal to put Florida on a clear path to victory (Aaron Ekblad‘s empty-netter was mere icing on Florida’s cake).

The Panthers have top-tier talents who can light the lamp at any moment but don’t require that to be successful. Even when special teams are struggling. Even when goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t perfect (which he has been close to in this series). Florida was excellent in all three phases at times in Game 2 because their lineup is strong and sound from its first to fourth line, from the third pairing to the first.

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Florida’s Niko Mikkola atones for near blunder with goal seconds later

After nearly firing in an own goal, Niko Mikkola scores on the other end moments later to bring the Panthers level.

There’s a disconnect with the Oilers

Finding a way to come back after losing in the playoffs has been part of the Oilers’ identity this postseason. They lost Game 2 to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime, only to win three straight to win the series in five games. After every loss in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks, they won. Even after losing two games to the Dallas Stars, they won three straight to close out the Western Conference finals in six games.

It’s proof that the Oilers have been able to make the necessary adjustments. But what makes this different — other than it being in the Cup Final — is that the Oilers had at least one victory in previous series whenever they lost. Now they’re in a 2-0 hole facing one of two realities: Either they cut the series to 2-1 or they face a 3-0 hole knowing they could potentially get swept on home ice in Game 4.

The Oilers’ strongest bet for secondary offense could be their defensemen

One of the conversations after Game 1 was how 52% of the Oilers’ shots came from Evan Bouchard, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid. Game 2 saw another quartet lead the way when it came to the Oilers’ getting shots on net: the Oilers defensemen combined for 13 of the Oilers’ 19 shots on goal.

No, really. Mattias Ekholm, who scored the Oilers’ lone goal, along with Brett Kulak, Vincent Desharnais and Bouchard were responsible for 13 shots. Kulak had five shots, Desharnais and Ekholm each had three, while Bouchard had two. The rest of the Oilers’ shots belonged to Draisaitl, Hyman and McDavid.


Players to watch in Game 3

Matthew Tkachuk, F, Panthers

Florida hasn’t seen the best of Matthew Tkachuk yet in the Cup Final. That’s not to say Tkachuk hasn’t been visible — he just hasn’t had the series-shifting, game-changing performance of which he has proven capable in the past.

Edmonton’s level of urgency will skyrocket now that it’s not only in a 2-0 deficit but back playing for its home crowd. This is when the Panthers need their stars to step up, and given the uncertainty surrounding Aleksander Barkov‘s status after the third period hit he took from Draisaitl, it’s on Tkachuk to set a tone for the Panthers and demonstrate his leadership.

And he’s quite familiar with the Edmonton crowd, after skating for the archnemesis Calgary Flames prior to his trade to the Panthers.

Florida has an opportunity to take a commanding lead on the Oilers, and Tkachuk will want to be a catalyst.

Darnell Nurse, D, Oilers

For starters, will Nurse be healthy enough to play in Game 3? Or will the Oilers be faced to make another adjustment with their defensive pairings?

Nurse was on the receiving end of a first-period check that led to him going to the dressing room. He returned for a 13-second shift, only to go back to the dressing room again before coming back to the Oilers’ bench. Nurse had just one shift in the second period and two more in the third period.

Getting injured is the latest development in what has been a trying postseason for Nurse. He was on the ice for two goals in Game 1, pushing him to a minus-15 rating for the playoffs. That mark is one away from the lowest plus/minus rating in a single postseason.


Big questions for Game 3

Will Barkov be available?

Florida is fortunate there are two days between Game 2 and Game 3. That gives Barkov a more time to be assessed to determine whether it’s safe for him to get back in action following the high hit from Draisaitl.

Barkov has had a tremendous run in this postseason, posting six goals and 19 points. If he is unavailable, that puts pressure on Anton Lundell and the Panthers’ other depth centers to step up — a tall task at any juncture of the season, but especially when facing an Edmonton team that will be desperate to start evening the score on home ice.

Barkov’s status will be at the forefront for Florida until there’s a definite answer on his availability.

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Why Sergei Bobrovsky is enjoying the ‘fun challenge’ of facing Oilers

Sergei Bobrovsky joins Scott Van Pelt following the Panthers’ 4-1 win over the Oilers in Game 2.

What must happen for the Oilers to piece together a consistent performance?

Game 1 saw the Oilers consistently generating shots for two periods while limiting shots on the other end … only to lose. Game 2 saw them score against Bobrovsky, but they struggled to get shots on net while allowing several chances at a time … which led to them losing.

Through two games, there have been glimpses of progress, but also quite a few moments of struggle. Part of the narrative with the Oilers this season following Kris Knoblauch’s hire has been the ability to make adjustments. They did so against the Canucks when they were down 2-1 in the second round. They did it again when they lost two straight in the Western Conference finals to the Stars.

Can they once again find the right combinations to climb out of a 2-0 series hole or could they be facing the threat of facing elimination on home ice in Game 4?

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Ohtani blasts 455-foot HR; Angels rally in extras

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Ohtani blasts 455-foot HR; Angels rally in extras

LOS ANGELES — Taylor Ward singled in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning, lifting the Los Angeles Angels over the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 on Friday night in Shohei Ohtani‘s first game against his old team.

The Angels won in extra innings for the first time this season, after losing three previous times.

“It’s awesome,” Ward said. “You just never know with us. Just got to keep fighting.”

Ohtani hit a two-run homer with two outs in the fifth that put the Dodgers ahead. He was 2-for-2 with two walks but got caught stealing to end the eighth. The Dodgers managed just three other hits.

“I just made a bad pitch,” Angels reliever Matt Moore said. “The guys came back really good, so I just washed it away. It’s very hard to win here. Our team did a really good job of playing all the way to the end.”

Ohtani left Anaheim for the Dodgers last December, signing a record $700 million, 10-year deal. He has homered in four of his past six games and has scored a run and driven in a run in six straight games, a team best.

“He’s playing really good baseball and tonight we just couldn’t support him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Many of the young Angels in the lineup didn’t play with Ohtani before he departed, and some of the veterans who did, such as Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, are injured.

“We all know who Shohei is — superstar,” Angels manager Ron Washington said before the game. “This is the Dodgers and when you play against the Dodgers you got one thing on your mind — you want to win because then it might put you on the map.”

Jo Adell started the 10th at second base and was sacrificed to third by Nolan Schanuel. Dodgers closer Evan Phillips (0-1) came in and retired Luis Rengifo on a groundout before Ward singled to left.

The Dodgers couldn’t produce in the bottom of the inning. Cavan Biggio started at second and took third on Jason Heyward‘s groundout, but Carlos Estévez struck out Enrique Hernández and Gavin Lux to end the game and earn his 14th save.

Luis García (2-0) got the win with two innings of relief.

Ohtani’s 455-foot shot — his National League-leading 22nd homer of the season — into right-center off Moore scored Austin Barnes and snapped a scoreless tie. It was Ohtani’s seventh homer in his past 11 games. It also marked his fifth homer of at least 450 feet this season, breaking a tie with New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge for the most in MLB, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Best player on the planet,” Estévez said. “Still amazing to see how hard he can hit the ball.”

Dodgers relievers hit four batters in two innings. Ryan Yarbrough became the club’s first pitcher to plunk three in one inning — a career worst for him — since Carl Doyle on June 8, 1940.

The Angels tied the score in the sixth, when Yarbrough hit Rengifo leading off. Ward singled before Logan O’Hoppe got hit to load the bases. Yarbrough then plunked Zach Neto to force in a run. Mickey Moniak followed with a groundout to second that scored Ward and tied the game, 2-2.

“He’s a guy that typically we count on for command,” Roberts said of Yarbrough. “He just didn’t have command. He just wasn’t sharp.”

Angels starter Patrick Sandoval departed with left forearm tightness after walking Ohtani in the third. He will have a MRI on Saturday.

“Really painful,” he said. “Something I never really felt before.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Panthers rue nullified goal: Would’ve been ‘spark’

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Panthers rue nullified goal: Would've been 'spark'

EDMONTON, Alberta — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t have challenged it. Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch thought it was obvious. One thing was clear: The offside video review that took down Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov‘s second-period goal was a turning point in Edmonton’s 5-1 Game 6 Stanley Cup Final victory Friday night.

Barkov appeared to score 10 seconds after Edmonton’s Adam Henrique gave the home team a 2-0 lead just 46 seconds into the second period. But the Oilers’ bench challenged the goal, saying the Panthers were offside. After a video review, the officials determined that Florida’s Sam Reinhart “preceded the puck into the offensive zone and was in an offside position prior to the Panthers’ goal,” taking Barkov’s goal off the board and preserving the 2-0 lead.

The Oilers were in control of the game at that point. The ruling stopped Florida from stealing any of the momentum.

“You’re looking for a jump-start at that point,” Maurice said. “The shots are 11-2 in the first period, so we need something to go. It would’ve been a spark for us for sure.”

Edmonton would add a third goal with 1:40 left in the period. Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling had an ill-fated one-timer attempt blocked by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to center ice, where winger Zach Hyman found the puck, raced in and beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for his 16th goal of the playoffs.

“You think about the game, and there’s a couple opportunities to have momentum shifts,” Knoblauch said. “One was in the second period when they score on the offside play, make it 2-1 instead of 2-0. That’s the time that could change the flow of the game.”

From there, the Oilers became just the third team in NHL history to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.

After the game, Panthers players lamented the overturned goal.

“It sucks that it didn’t go our way,” Florida winger Carter Verhaeghe said. “I don’t know. I’m sure it was the right call if they’re watching a million replays.”

Said Barkov: “Well, it was offside, so it doesn’t count. We had our chances after that. We had our chances to get to one goal, but then they got 3-0.”

Maurice said that based on the angles he watched from the Panthers’ bench, he wouldn’t have challenged the goal had the roles been reversed.

“The linesperson informed me that it was the last clip that they got where they made the decision that it shows it’s offside,” Maurice said. “I don’t have those, so the video that I got at my bench … I was upset after the call based on what I see and what my video person looks at.

“There was no way I would’ve challenged that. There’s no way I thought you could conclusively say that was offside. I don’t know what [feeds] the Oilers get. I don’t know what the league gets. I just know that when I would’ve had to have challenged that based on what I saw, I would not have challenged.”

Knoblauch was 4-for-6 in the regular season on coach’s challenges. The process starts with video coaches Noah Segall and Mike Fanelli, who review available feeds. They radio down to assistant coach Mark Stuart, and the decision to challenge is discussed among the coaches.

Knoblauch disagreed with Maurice’s take on the ruling.

“I actually didn’t think it was that close,” Knoblauch said. “We were actually going to call it right away, and we had a little more time to review it. The only hesitation was maybe there wasn’t the right video. In my mind, it was definitely offside, but I guess you never know. It was something I wanted to challenge almost immediately when I saw it.”

It was yet another moment in which a glimmer of hope was dashed for the Panthers. They have lost three games in a row by a combined score of 18-5 and are faced with becoming the second team in NHL history to lose the Stanley Cup Final after building a 3-0 lead.

Florida had a lengthy meeting after the game with the coaching staff, management and players.

“We need to get ready for the Game 7,” Barkov said. “Obviously, no one’s happy to lose the game, but that’s it. We know we can get better and we need to get better.”

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Coyotes slam cancellation of Arizona land auction

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Coyotes slam cancellation of Arizona land auction

The Arizona State Land Department has cancelled a land auction scheduled for Thursday that the Arizona Coyotes‘ owner was counting on to reactivate his dormant NHL franchise.

In April, the NHL board of governors approved the establishment of a franchise in Utah, with Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo transferring his team’s hockey assets — from the roster and draft picks to the hockey operations department — to Smith Entertainment Group while retaining the team’s intellectual property.

As part of the sale, the NHL approved a plan that rendered the Arizona Coyotes franchise inactive, with a right to reactivate if Meruelo has fully constructed “a new, state-of-the-art facility appropriate for an NHL team within five years.”

The Coyotes had targeted a 95-acre parcel of land in north Phoenix as a potential new home for an arena. Earlier this year, the ASLD board of appeals unanimously approved a $68.5 million appraisal of the land and set the auction date.

The Coyotes released images of what they intended to build on that land should they win the bid, including an arena, a practice facility, a theater and housing units. The Coyotes planned on starting construction in the second quarter of 2025 with an eye toward being ready for an NHL team in 2027.

Multiple sources told ESPN that the auction issue is related to the kind of hockey arena that Meruelo could build on the land.

The Coyotes said the land was already zoned for an indoor hockey arena, which was a relic from a previous attempt to build a youth hockey facility in the area. But that apparently does not cover the construction of a 17,000-seat NHL arena, the capacity of which could grow to 18,500 for other events.

“ASLD recently confirmed that the proposed arena will require a Special Use Permit,” the land department wrote in its letter announcing the cancellation. “As a result, we are requesting that that the applicant file for and receive a Special Use Permit prior to the auction. The afford the applicant and ASLD certainty that the applicant can build what it intends to build for its anchor tenant.”

The ASLD added: “It is not uncommon for ASLD to require applicant to secure zoning/use permits prior to auction.”

The Coyotes released a statement Friday that slammed the cancellation and declared that they are “exploring all of our legal options given this shortsighted decision” by the ASLD.

“After over a year of planning and meeting every obligation required under Arizona law, the Arizona State Land Department unilaterally cancelled the auction that was scheduled to occur on June 27 for the site that has been identified as the future home of the Arizona Coyotes,” the Coyotes said. “This unprecedented action by the State of Arizona seriously jeopardizes the future of NHL hockey returning to the desert.”

The Coyotes claim they were expecting to win the auction.

“The organization has worked in good faith with the ASLD and has been on track to win the auction next week until the sudden reversal,” the team said. “By cancelling the land auction, the state is forgoing millions, and potentially billions, of dollars that would have gone directly to K-12 education.”

Scottsdale mayor David Ortega told the Arizona Republic on Friday that he had noted the land had “questionable zoning entitlement” ahead of the auction.

“Mr. Meruelo’s fantasy hockey proposal was just a smoke screen as he exited after running the franchise under,” Ortega told the paper.

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