Game 3 Notebook: Panthers downplay curious travel to Edmonton

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice shares details on the team's flight delay, why they flew a day later, and why media is making too much of the situation, it wasn't a serious issue at all.

EDMONTON — Kyle Okposo had one son at hockey camp, a daughter at ballet, and two more kids at school. They were spread all over the Fort Lauderdale area Wednesday when the clouds unleashed a downpour that halted flights — including the Florida Panthers‘ rather important business trip north.

“My wife was running around trying to pick them all up before the flooding started,” Okposo said Thursday, after a jet-lag-shaking morning skate.

“Once I knew that they were safe, I was fine. It was wild, like, seeing crocodiles in the streets. It was a lot of rain. It was crazy.”

Although the Oilers chartered from Florida to Edmonton Tuesday, the morning after Game 2, the Panthers chose to hang home for an extra day and didn’t travel until after practice Wednesday.

“We didn’t like the idea of getting them up [Tuesday] early enough to get in at a reasonable time in Edmonton. We didn’t see a value in it,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice explained.

Further, because the Cats will be cloistered inside a luxury hotel beside Rogers Place throughout their stay, they didn’t want to be cooped up an extra day.

Catch was, due to fierce rains in Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s team plane was delayed and did not touch down in Edmonton until about 8 p.m. local (10 p.m., according to the players’ Eastern body clocks).

Thursday’s 6 p.m. MT start will be a quick turnaround from the tarmac to the rink for a team that hasn’t skated west of the Eastern time zone in three months.

“We were just hanging out, having fun,” Okposo said. “People are making a pretty big deal out of it. I think it’s hilarious.”

So far in these playoffs, the Oilers played Rounds 1 and 2 against teams that have played in the Pacific time zone, a round against Dallas in the Central time zone, and now the Eastern-based Panthers. And, of course, the Oilers reside in the Mountain time zone, so their circadian rhythm has had a workout this spring.

Florida, meanwhile, played one game in Dallas on March 12 and one game in Nashville on Jan. 22, both in the Central time zone. Those are their only forays out of the East in five months.

After their flight foibles on Wednesday, does the lack of exposure to different time zones pose an advantage, or a disadvantage for the Panthers?

“We got on the plane, we spent an extra hour-and-a-half on the tarmac, they played cards, they laughed. Every time one of the trainers walked in, he was soaked head-to-toe. He got a standing ovation,” Maurice said.

“I’m joking around with that. But there’s some people who are struggling right now in Florida. There are floods. So, it’s a serious thing that happened there. But our day was not serious.”

Where is scoring from forwards?

With Game 3 set for Thursday night, the Oilers are still waiting for their first goal in this series from a forward. Their only goal thus far came off the stick of defenceman Mattias Ekholm.

We’ll look to the usual suspects to pull Edmonton back into this series: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the power play. But really, do the Oilers have a hope if more players don’t pitch in?

“You look at our top guys, they’ve been carrying their weight. Leon and Connor and Zach and Nuggy,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “We need some help throughout the lineup.”

Edmonton has played 20 playoff games, or about one quarter of a regular season. Corey Perry is without a goal. Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod have one each. Dylan Holloway (three goals) has gone eight games without a goal and Evander Kane’s travails (four goals, but none in nine games) have been well-chronicled.

The Panthers have depth. So far, offensively, Edmonton has had nothing.

“Florida is getting some scoring from their depth players,” Knoblauch said. “We have a lot of good, quality players in our depth positions that have not been producing offensively as much as they have in the regular season. I think there’s more that they can give.”

As for the big boys getting their mojo back, Draisaitl promised Thursday morning that they’ll put it together sooner than later.

“We’ve had these stretches in the past and we’ve always bounced back,” Draisaitl said. “I’m confident our group will.”

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Forsling’s coming-out party

At the hotly contest poker table on the Panthers’ charter, Gustav Forsling is known as one of the sharks.

“He plays tight,” Carter Verhaeghe said.

The sniper is speaking of the defenceman’s card strategy. But he could just as easily be referring to Forsling’s gap control.

Florida’s breakout, top-pair ace is as stingy on the ice as he is with his chips. (Apparently, he’s a patient fisherman as well.)

Despite skating a team-high 38:36 at even-strength this series, most of that against Edmonton’s big guns, Forsling is tilting the scales in his club’s favour.

The Cats are outshooting Edmonton 22-19 and outscoring the Oilers 4-1 when Forsling is out there.

What a year for the late-blooming Swede.

Forsling, 28, got married, became a father, signed a life-altering $46-million contract extension, and is now a force in the Stanley Cup Final.

“It goes to the kind of guy. Because none of those things have to be negative distractions, right? They should be brilliantly phenomenal things,” Maurice said. “You get married, you have a kid, you secure your future. Buy yourself a place to live. And it turns out, he’s playing by far the best hockey of his life. Best of his career. He’s peaked. Hopefully he can stay there for about eight years.”

Forsling, the 126th-overall draftee of the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, had his rights traded to Chicago a year later. He was dealt from the Blackhawks to a crowded blueline in Carolina in 2019. Then the Cats snatched him off the waiver wire in 2021.

“He had to work every day without a guarantee that it was going to turn out like this,” Maurice said.

“Five years ago, when he’s scratching and clawing to be in the league, his character is formed, or it’s proven. So, when the good things come from all the hard work, it doesn’t distract him from the game. He’s been brilliant.”

Barkov fallout

Both Draisaitl and Barkov are going to play in Game 3, so we can put the Game 2 incident to bed once and for all. Unless, of course, Draisaitl faces some revenge for going after Florida’s best player.

“I think we all know I’m not a player who plays with an intent to injure anybody by any means. I have no track record of that,” Draisaitl said Thursday. “I’m not a player who enjoys that part of the game, injuring other players or anything like that. I caught him in an unfortunate spot. So, yeah, I’ll leave it at that.”

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Pride of St. Louis leads NBA Finals, NHL Final

Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum were classmates at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis. Now both star athletes are just two victories away from a championship.

Tkachuk has been watching Boston closely, rooting hard.

“I’m a big Matthew fan,” Tatum told reporters Tuesday at the Finals. “I actually watched him win last night. Trying to learn and understand the rules in the game of hockey more and more.

“I’m extremely happy for him and his family. Hopefully they win it all.”

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How they line up for Game 3

Some big lineup decisions face Knoblauch, starting with whether or not assistant captain Darnell Nurse (hip) can go. In the height of a Cup Final series, Knoblauch would not even hint at who is in and who is out, so we’ll make our best guesses.

It sounds like Kane may finally be sat down. He’s been playing hurt for too long, and he just can’t get it around the rink well enough to help anymore. It also appears that Perry gets back into the lineup after being healthy-scratched in Game 2.

It appears centre Derek Ryan comes in for Sam Carrick, and if Nurse comes out, Cody Ceci comes in — though there’s a remote chance both defencemen play in an 11-and-7 system, just in case Nurse takes a hit and can’t play the full 60.

Here’s how we suspect the Oilers will go with for Game 3:

Nugent-Hopkins – McDavid – Hyman

McLeod – Draisaitl – Holloway

Janmark – Henrique – Brown

Foegele – Ryan – Perry

Ekholm – Bouchard

Kulak – Broberg

Nurse – Desharnais

Skinner starts

Pickard

The Panthers project to make one small tweak, bumping the Final’s leading goal scorer, Evan Rodrigues, to the top line and shifting Verhaeghe down:

Rodrigues – Barkov – Reinhart

Verhaeghe – Bennett – Tkachuk

Luostarinen – Lundell – Tarasenko

Lorentz – Stenlund – Okposo

Forsling – Ekblad

Mikkola – Montour

Ekman-Larsson – Kulikov

Bobrovsky starts

Stolarz

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