‘Grumpy’ Panthers will be ‘ready to go’ in Game 6

NHL

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers do not believe the Stanley Cup is slipping away to Connor McDavid and the rallying Edmonton Oilers.

The Panthers saw their Stanley Cup Final lead cut from 3-0 down to 3-2 after Edmonton’s 5-3 Game 5 victory. It was the second straight game McDavid recorded four points, as the Oilers became just the fourth team in NHL history to force a Game 6 after losing the first three games of the Final, which has happened 29 times.

Florida star Matthew Tkachuk dismissed a suggestion that the Panthers are feeling the pressure in trying to close the series out, losing their second straight game with the Stanley Cup in the building.

“No, no, no. It’s not an elimination game for us,” Tkachuk said. “We’re going up there with a 3-2 series lead. Just got to take care of business like we did in Game 3.”

The Panthers pushed hard to try and tie Game 5 after falling behind 4-1. Tkachuk assisted on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s third-period goal to cut it to 4-3, but they couldn’t find the equalizer. Tkachuk said the comeback falling short was tough to swallow.

“We’ve got another crack at it on Friday,” he said. “We did a really good job at the beginning of the series of building that lead, so really nothing changes from tonight’s mindset. We’re up 3-2 going back to Edmonton. Couple days to get ready to go for that and get back healthy and rested and ready to go.”

Panthers forward Sam Bennett said he doesn’t feel that the series is slipping away.

“I mean, we’ve just got to win one game,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re not thinking about that. We’re just thinking about winning one game.”

Florida coach Paul Maurice said his team took too many penalties in the first two periods — four minor penalties, leading to two Edmonton power-play goals — and added the Panthers have to “fix” allowing shorthanded goals to the Oilers, who opened the scoring in back-to-back games with goals by their penalty kill.

“It was a similar start to Game 4 with giving up the shorty there, which is just unacceptable,” Tkachuk said. “We’ve got to start better.”

Tkachuk played perhaps his best game of the playoffs for the Panthers, scoring a goal to cut the Edmonton lead to 3-1 and then setting up Ekman-Larsson’s third-period goal to close within 4-3. He led the Panthers with six hits. The only blemish on his night: a 2-minute minor for embellishment on a Dylan Holloway hooking penalty in the third.

“He was good,” Ekman-Larsson said of Tkachuk. “He made some good plays down low and he battled. So we’re going to need that from all our guys.”

History still favors the Panthers in the series. The Oilers are just the fourth team in NHL history to trail the Stanley Cup Final 3-0 and rally to force a Game 6. The 2012 New Jersey Devils lost in six games, the 1945 Detroit Red Wings lost in seven games and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs won in seven games — the only team in NHL history to win the Cup after trailing the Final 3-0.

“Absolutely nothing has changed in our situation over the last two games,” Maurice said. “I’m not pumping tires. I’m not rubbing backs. I don’t think we need that at all. Everybody feels probably exactly the way I do right now. I’m not feeling deflated, neither is the hockey team. They’re not feeling deflated. A little grumpy.”

Game 6 is Friday night back in Edmonton, where Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner expects the Panthers will build on the way they closed Game 5.

“Even though we were able to win tonight and play a pretty good game, I think we got to still find a way to elevate our game,” Skinner said. “I mean, you saw tonight how the Panthers came back. They played extremely hard and that’s the kind of team that they have.

“But you can never count the Oil out. Being able to get these two wins are obviously crucial. We got another one to get back in Edmonton, so that’s our main focus right now.”

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