2024 Stanley Cup Final: 3 takeaways from Panthers 3-0 Game 1 win vs. Oilers

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers earned their first-ever lead in the Stanley Cup Final thanks to a 3-0 shutout win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 on Saturday night. After being 1-8 in their previous nine games over two trips to the Cup Final, Florida picked up their second shutout of the 2024 postseason and lead the Final for the first time in franchise history.

Under coach Paul Maurice’s guidance, the Panthers continued to play their relentless game and smother their opponent, leaving any loose change for netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who was solid between the pipes. As a unit, Florida looks near unbeatable, despite being outshot 32-18.

The Panthers, now 13-5 in this postseason, capitalized with two quick goals on their first five shots and rode that momentum for the final 38 minutes, adding an empty netter to put the contest out of reach. Ahead of Game 2, scheduled for Monday night, let’s review some takeaways from the opening game of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final.

Related: 2024 Stanley Cup Fina: Winners and losers from Game 1 between Panthers and Oilers

1. Panthers dominate in face-off circle

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first three rounds, Florida compiled a 51.0 percent win percentage in the face-off circle, which ranked fifth among the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Meanwhile, the Oilers, who stood at 46.9 percent, were 13th overall.

Those trends continued in Game 1, when Florida finished the evening with a 60 percent win rate, gaining possession on 34 of 57 draws. Whether in their end or the offensive zone, face-offs are crucial to the Panthers puck-possession heavy game, and this was a huge advantage for them in Game 1.

Five players from Edmonton took a draw, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (60 percent) and Ryan McLeod (50 percent) the only ones to finish with a winning grade. Out of the seven players to take a faceoff for Florida, no one finished below 50 percent, with Sam Bennett winning four of five draws (80 percent), followed by Kevin Stenlund at 71 percent (five of seven).

Adam Henrique of Edmonton was destroyed in the face-off circle Saturday, winning just four of 15 draws (27 percent).

This year’s Stanley Cup Final features so many star players that the role players could be the ones who make the difference. So to see Bennett and Stenlund lead the way in the face-off circle is just another sign of Florida’s outstanding depth, and in such a key aspect of the game, too.

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2. Oilers top guns shut down, shut out in Game 1 loss

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Evan Bouchard have combined for 86 points in these playoffs and are ranked Top 3 in the postseason scoring race. Along with Zach Hyman, who leads the NHL with 14 playoff goals, this group largely carried the Oilers to their first Cup Final since 2006.

But they could not break through against Bobrovsky and the Panthers on Sunday.

Even their dynamic power play was 0-for-3 in Game 1. This was just the sixth time this postseason that the Oilers failed to score at least one goal on the power play. As the only team in NHL history to rank first in power-play percentage and penalty kill and advance to the Final, the Oilers’ special teams were quiet in the series opener.

McDavid led the Oilers with six shots on goal, and Bouchard had his chances, but no one in a white sweater had an answer for Bobrovsky, who made 32 saves for his second consecutive Game 1 shutout in these playoffs.

The Oilers have only lost the opening match of a playoff series once this postseason, against the Vancouver Canucks in the second round. They eventually won the series in Game 7, a place many experts think this Stanley Cup Final could end up. However, if Game 1 was any indication, it could be a quick series unless Edmonton’s best players find ways not to get beat down by the Panthers to get the puck past Bobrovsky whether 5v5 or on their vaunted power play.

Related: Panthers one of 11 NHL teams not to have won Stanley Cup

3. Sergei Bobrovsky is in Conn Smythe Trophy-winning form

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, Bobrovsky picked up his second shutout of the playoffs in Game 1 with 32 saves. In the Eastern Conference Final, he waltzed into Madison Square Garden to pitch an identical 3-0 shutout to put the New York Rangers on their heels at home to start that series. The Panthers went on to win in six games, and Bobrovsky allowed more than two goals only once in the series.

On Saturday night, Bobrovsky was a thief, robbing the Oilers on three breakaways, all at crucial times of the contest. On top of that, he stopped McDavid’s six attempts and was lights out against the Oilers power play, which has tormented goalies throughout the postseason.

Last year, Bobrovsky had a poor showing in the Stanley Cup Final, finishing the series with an .844 save percentage, and the Panthers lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. Even though it’s only one game, Bobrovsky leapfrogged everyone in the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy with a shutout to start this Cup Final.

If the Panthers and Bobrovsky continue to shut down the Edmonton attack, there’s a good chance he will become the 15th goalie to win playoff MVP.

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