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SUNRISE, Fla. — After two games in the Stanley Cup Final, both Florida Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues and defenseman Niko Mikkola have scored more goals than Edmonton Oilers stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman … combined.

The Panthers took a 2-0 lead in the series on Monday night with a 4-1 win over the Oilers that was powered by two unsung members of their supporting cast. Rodrigues scored twice, giving him three goals in the Final. Mikkola scored a critical goal to tie the game in the second period, for only the second playoff goal of his career.

“It’s special. You try to embrace it, try to stay in the moment. It’s two big wins for our team. And I think we’ve already turned the page and we’re getting ready for Game 3,” Rodrigues said.

Florida coach Paul Maurice watched another brilliant defensive effort from his team in the victory: Not yielding anything against the heralded Edmonton power play, not allowing a single high-danger shot attempt at 5-on-5, keeping Edmonton’s stars without a goal and relying on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves) to be the last line of defense.

But when Maurice needed goals, Rodrigues and Mikkola provided them.

“We play tight games. We’ve always played tight, hard games. We don’t necessarily score easily. That’s not a function of skill or talent,” the coach said.

Rodrigues, 30, is a nine-year NHL veteran who signed a four-year, $12 million deal with the Panthers as a free agent last summer. An analytics darling during his career with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche, he had 12 goals and 27 assists in 80 games for the Panthers this season.

His goal in Game 1 was a one-timer past netminder Stuart Skinner, set up by a pass from behind the net by center Sam Bennett, that built a 2-0 lead for the Panthers.

Game 2 started with Rodrigues delivering a punishing hit on the forecheck against Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who immediately grabbed his side in discomfort just four shifts into the game. Nurse would return in the second period, but he had only three shifts for the rest of the night.

Rodrigues’ first goal in Game 2 came at 3:11 of the third period to snap a 1-1 tie — and it was a score that might have been linked to Nurse’s injury.

Edmonton defenseman Evan Bouchard played 30:40 in Game 2 because Nurse was hurt. The typically steady defenseman made a glaring mistake, however, attempting to clear the puck from the Edmonton zone only to have it land directly on the stick blade of Rodrigues.

“I got in on the forecheck. Tried to make a play. Almost got myself in a little bit of a pickle trying to look to make a play versus moving my feet,” Rodrigues said. “Then the puck came back to me, and I wasn’t making that mistake again. So, I just kind of fired it on net, and it went through a couple legs. Obviously, really happy to see it go in.”

His second goal came on the power play at 12:26 of the third period. Bouchard was again victimized, this time by an Anton Lundell pass to Rodrigues, who tipped the puck past Skinner for a critical insurance goal.

That ended a streak of 34 straight successful penalty kills for the Oilers, tied with the 2001 St. Louis Blues for the third-longest such streak in Stanley Cup playoffs history.

Rodrigues became the first player in Panthers history with a multiple-goal game in the Stanley Cup Final. His three goals in the Final equals his total through the first three rounds this year.

His performance earned Rodrigues time on the Panthers’ top line with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, as winger Carter Verhaeghe “kind of needs to change your address every once in a while,” according to Maurice. His performance also earned accolades from his teammates.

“So good, so happy for him. Proud of him. He reads the game so well. He’s a super smart player and I’m really happy to see him get rewarded right now,” winger Matthew Tkachuk said.

“I think he’s a bit of a chameleon,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “I think if you look at the teams that he’s played on and who he’s played with, it’s not an easy thing to go play with some of the top players in the world.”

As for Mikkola, his game-tying goal was quite an adventure.

The 6-foot-4 Finn had the puck in his own zone with Edmonton’s Evander Kane bearing down on him. Mikkola spun around and flung the puck … directly at his own goaltender Bobrovsky, who alertly knocked it away. Mikkola shook his head to acknowledge the blunder and then skated up ice.

“I tried to do defenseman-to-defenseman pass. Bobby was awake, which was good for us,” said Mikkola, drawing laugher after the game. “And the rest was nice.”

Moments later, Lundell stickhandled in the Oilers zone and dropped a pass to a trailing Mikkola who blasted a one-timer past goalie Skinner for the tie.

“Even if we were down one goal, everybody was calm and trusting the process,” Mikkola said. “I was little lucky. Got the one through.”

Mikkola, 28, was another free-agent coup for GM Bill Zito, signing a 3-year, $7.5-million deal. Almost a year later, he’s a major reason the Panthers are up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final is Thursday in Edmonton. Since the Stanley Cup Final first went to a 7-game format in 1939, only 5 teams have come back to win a Final after losing the first two games.

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Ohtani blasts 455-foot HR; Angels rally in extras




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’




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




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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