Oilers edge Panthers, trim deficit to 3-2 in Stanley Cup Final

Connor McDavid had another four-point night and Stuart Skinner stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-3 in Game 5 to stave off elimination once again in the Stanley Cup Final.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid slipped a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.

Edmonton’s superstar captain sliced through Florida’s defence later in the second period for another highlight-reel assist in what has become an astounding, career-defining spring.

The Oilers wanted to drag their opponent back to Alberta. McDavid is the overwhelming reason why.

The dazzlingly talented centre had two goals and two assists Tuesday as Edmonton held on for a 5-3 victory that cut Florida’s lead in the Stanley Cup final to 3-2.

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“He’s been driving the bus since he’s got here,” Oilers winger Zach Hyman said after scoring his first goal of the series. “He’s the guy who’s been leading this team. You kind of expect it from him. 

“Don’t want to put any extra pressure, but that’s what he does. He elevates his game at the most opportune times.”

Connor Brown and Corey Perry provided the rest of the offence for the Oilers, who have won two straight — including Saturday’s 8-1 whitewash on home ice — facing elimination after dropping the best-of-seven matchup’s first three contests. Evan Bouchard had three assists. 

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“It’s easy to talk the talk,” said Stuart Skinner, who finished with 30 saves. “It’s a lot harder to walk the walk. We’re proving to ourselves that we can do both.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Evan Rodrigues, with a goal and an assist each, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson replied for Florida, a group now feeling the squeeze following consecutive losses with the Cup in the building and a chance to clinch the franchise’s first-ever title. Bobrovsky stopped 19 shots.

“Absolutely nothing has changed for our situation in the last two games except we learned some things,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “Some lessons we don’t need to learn, we’ve learned them enough. We keep getting taught those lessons, but nothing’s changed for us.

“Not one thing.”

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Game 6 in a championship round with the furthest distance between cities in NHL history at more than 4,000 kilometres goes Friday inside what will undoubtedly be a deafening Rogers Place in Edmonton. Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday back in South Florida. 

“I’ve been part of a lot of teams that have always said they had strong belief,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch, a November hire tasked with righting the ship following a disastrous start to the schedule. “Most of the time they don’t. But with this group, they say they have strong belief, I truly believe they have that strong belief.

“The more situations you go through where you face adversity, it just sets you up for being able to handle it in the future.” 

McDavid’s 42 points this spring already represents the fourth-best individual playoff performance in league history behind Wayne Gretzky (47 points, 1984-85), Mario Lemieux (44 points, 1990-91) and Gretzky (43 points, 1987-88). 

“Any time I’m compared or in the same realm as those two, it’s always a good thing,” said the 27-year-old. “I love playing with this group and it’s not possible without everybody.”

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McDavid’s eight points in Cup elimination games — he also put up four Saturday — set the record for one title series. 

The Oilers are looking to capture their first Cup in 34 years, and snap a drought for Canadian-based teams that dates back to the Montreal Canadiens’ victory in 1993. 

The five-time winners are aiming to become just the fifth club in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a series. The 1942 Toronto Maple are the only team to accomplish the feat in a final.

“Resiliency … work, belief,” Perry said of what Edmonton has shown the last two games. “We talked about it when we were down 3-0. It’s just hard work. We knew we were playing decent and just waiting for those bounces.

“Got a couple and now we’re going home.” 

The Panthers came out of the gates flying at Amerant Bank Arena, forcing Skinner to make big stops on both Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad in the opening moments. 

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Florida went to the power play a few minutes later, but the Oilers buried their second short-handed goal in as many games to open the scoring — a first in the history of the final. 

Brown, who waited until his 55th contest to score this season, intercepted a no-look pass at Edmonton’s blue line and outraced Aleksander Barkov before moving to the backhand on an outstretched Bobrovsky for his second goal of the playoffs at 5:30. 

The Oilers’ struggling man advantage had two minutes of fresh ice and a number of looks to start the second. It finally broke through at 5-on-4 when Bouchard’s blast hit Hyman for his playoff-leading 15th at 1:58. 

McDavid then snuck his seventh under Bobrovsky — suddenly human after stopping 82-of-86 shots through the first three games — from a sharp angle at the five-minute mark for a 3-1 lead. 

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Tkachuk got Florida on the board 1:53 later when he fired his sixth, and first since May 22, upstairs. 

Edmonton struck late on another power play at 11:54 when McDavid wove into the offensive zone and found Perry on that spectacular setup for his first. 

“When we’re against the wall, he puts us on his back,” said the veteran winger. “You see why he’s the best.”

Rodrigues scored his seventh of the post-season, and fourth of the final, 1:16 later to make it 4-2. 

Ekman-Larsson brought the Panthers to within one at 4:04 of the third with his second before McDavid iced it into the empty net after some anxious moments to force Game 6. 

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A group that rebounded after starting the season 2-9-1, came back from three deficits against the Vancouver Canucks in the second round of the playoffs, and fell behind the Dallas Stars 2-1 in the Western Conference final, the Oilers now sit just two wins from improbable glory. 

“It’s been a fun ride,” McDavid said. “It’s going to go one more day … all we’ve earned here is another day. 

“We’ll be ready to go in Edmonton.” 

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