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Bobrovsky makes 32 saves, Panthers blank Oilers 3-0 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup final

Teams return to action for Game 2 Tuesday in Florida
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, right, stops a shot on goal by Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (97) during the third period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals, Saturday, June 8, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

Sergei Bobrovsky put on a masterclass against Connor McDavid and every other player who dared shoot the puck at him, his teammates pounced when given the chance and the Florida Panthers are off and rolling in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bobrovsky was unbeatable in stopping all 32 shots he faced from every angle and in every situation in one of the most memorable playoff goaltending performances in recent history, Carter Verhaeghe and Evan Rodrigues scored and the Panthers beat the visiting Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Saturday night in Game 1 of the NHL’s best-of-seven championship series.

Chants of “Bobby! Bobby!” repeated themselves over and over as the goalie everyone simply calls “Bob” turned aside multiple breakaways, stopped McDavid when the reigning and three-time MVP went into turbo mode and flew all around and outside the crease to make Florida’s net an impenetrable fortress. At one point, Bobrovsky lost his stick for 30 seconds and still managed to make saves.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner for his stellar regular-season play registered his second shutout of this run and third in the playoffs over his 14-year career. Thanks to him, the Panthers have a lead in the Cup final for the first time in franchise history and are now three wins away from hoisting hockey’s hallowed trophy for the first time.

It didn’t even matter that they were outshot 32-18. Back in the final for a second consecutive season and healthier and more prepared for the moment than in the five-game loss to Vegas a year ago, Florida showed experience on this stage does matter, handling pressure and tense moments throughout like most of its players have been here before.

The goals by Verhaeghe and Rodrigues came on the first five shots on net against Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner, who was left out to dry by a slow backcheck and a lost race to the puck. Skinner, who has had his ups and downs this postseason and whose play looked like the biggest question in the series, was hardly to blame for either one.

Edmonton controlled much of the game 5 on 5, extended its streak of penalties killed to 30, and its power play did just about everything right except score. Despite all that, the Oilers find themselves trailing in this core group led by McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s first appearance in the final.

READ MORE: Stanley Cup-thirsty Oiler fans sell out final tickets in minutes

It’s a series featuring the furthest distance between teams meeting for the Cup, eclipsing the previous record set in 2011 by Boston and Vancouver. The trophy was brought out on to the ice prior to puck drop, similarly to what the league did by shining a spotlight on it in the empty stands in Edmonton four years ago when the playoffs went on in pandemic bubbles.

This was the polar opposite of that eerily quiet scene, with a sellout crowd of 19,543 screaming fans juiced up for a fifth consecutive final featuring a team from the Florida. While 20 playoff games have been played in Canada over the past 20 seasons, this was the 22nd in the Sunshine State over that time.

Another is set for Tuesday when these teams return for Game 2.

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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press