Stanley Cup Final takeaways, grades: The legend of Playoff Bob grows


The Florida Panthers have struck first in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, winning Game 1 by a 3-0 score over the Edmonton Oilers.

It was a shutout for Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, whose legendary status as “Playoff Bob” continues to grow. Game 2 between the clubs is Monday (8 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN+).

Here’s what stood out in Florida’s victory, along with key players to watch in Game 2 and the biggest lingering question.

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Panthers grade: A+

Florida basically played a perfect game on Saturday. The penalty kill stood tall against Edmonton’s vaunted power play (going 3-for-3 on the night), and despite being outshot by a wide margin (33-18), there was no question the Panthers were in control from start to finish.

Sergei Bobrovsky turned in one of his strongest overall performances of the postseason and showed no signs of the wear and tear he displayed at the beginning of last year’s Stanley Cup Final.


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Oilers grade: B

Multiple things can be true at once, and that might be the strongest way to assess what happened to the Oilers in Game 1. Their system essentially worked, in that they were able to generate scoring chances from different parts of the ice while limiting opportunities in the defensive zone. It’s what they’ve done throughout the postseason.

But the Oilers were left searching for answers because of Bobrovsky. They finished with 33 shots, 22 scoring chances and 13 high-danger chances. They limited the Panthers to 18 shots, 18 scoring chances and 6 high-danger chances. But they struggled to consistently get shots for most of the third period, and they were held goalless for the first time this postseason. Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch and his assistants must use the break between games to find a breakthrough for Game 2.


What we learned in Game 1

Florida’s penalty kill is outstanding

Did we already know this? Perhaps. But it was clear in Game 1 that if the Panthers could keep the Oilers from capitalizing on their power play chances, Florida held a serious advantage in the series going forward. Edmonton entered the Cup Final with a power play rolling at 37.3% — best of any team in the postseason field — and Florida’s ability to slow down and frustrate Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was a serious game-changer.

The Panthers’ confidence is key vs. Edmonton’s stars

Florida might have tried overplaying themselves going up against some of the NHL’s biggest stars. But the Panthers aren’t intimidated by anyone. Florida’s faith in its structure and belief in their own system was on full display when while Edmonton doubled up on shot attempts. Matthew Tkachuk spoke Friday about the Panthers not being “bad boys” — only engaging between the whistles — and that was true in Saturday’s victory.

The Panthers were physical; they pushed back. They never crossed that line into pest territory. They were still bothersome, though, and Edmonton’s agitation was obvious as the clock wound down and Florida continued to be impenetrable. The Panthers have such a strong self of self that they are nearly impossible to rattle. That’s been true for some time now — and it is a valuable quality to have in a Cup Final.

The Oilers could use more balance

Add up the shot totals of Evan Bouchard, Zach Hyman, Draisaitl and McDavid in Game 1, and you get 17. To view it another way: They accounted for 52% of the Oilers’ shots on goal.

Getting shut out for the first time this postseason will lead to questions for a team that has been consistently proficient. One of the answers to those questions is having the Oilers’ supporting cast generate more shots, knowing more than half of them came from a total of four players in the first game of the series.

Edmonton will continue to need this version of Stuart Skinner

So much of the Oilers’ defensive identity this postseason has been about a fundamental part of goal prevention. Specifically, they don’t allow many shots on goal.

That held true in Game 1 against the Panthers. As did Skinner. Since Game 6 in the second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, Skinner has given the Oilers a chance to win every game. He has allowed two goals or fewer in all but one of his past nine games. Skinner stopped 15 of the 17 shots he faced in Game 1 to help the Oilers remain close, and they’ll need him to be just as good as the series continues.


Players to watch in Game 2

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Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Panthers

It’s not just that Bobrovsky pitched a shutout in Game 1. It’s that he did so with a vintage Bobrovsky performance.

Bobrovsky outplayed Stuart Skinner — while Florida was vastly outshot 34-17 — and never appeared out of his element. He was calm, cool and collected even while making a windmill save here and there.

In a series projected to be closely contested between evenly matched lineups, goaltending could well be what determines the final outcome. Bobrovsky has to churn out games like the one he had Saturday again and again for Florida to stay ahead of Edmonton’s attack — especially when there’s a lopsided shot total. The Panthers might have gotten away with it in Game 1 because of Bobrovsky’s excellence. He’ll have to keep at it for the Panthers to stay on pace for a series victory.

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Warren Foegele F, Oilers

Let’s go back to Edmonton needing secondary offense beyond Bouchard, Draisaitl, Hyman and McDavid. Foegele finished Game 1 with three shots on goal. That was the most shots on goal by an Oilers player who isn’t Bouchard, Draisaitl, Hyman and McDavid.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of his performance is that he did it while logging just 10:23 in ice time. And even that statistic reinforces why the Oilers will need more contributions in Game 2. Why? Because aside from Draisaitl, Hyman and McDavid, there was only one forward who logged more than 16 minutes in Game 1 — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.


Big questions for Game 2

Is Florida already in Edmonton’s head?

If the Panthers neutralize the Oilers’ power play like they did in Game 1, how will Edmonton respond in Game 2 (and beyond)? The Oilers have excelled in this postseason on the strength of their man advantage, and if that can’t fire the way it has against other opponents, how will they compensate? Do they have what it takes at 5-on-5 to take down the Panthers?

There’s an opportunity in Game 2 for the Oilers to show some of their depth in that respect. It wasn’t on display much on Saturday, though, which is worrisome for Edmonton’s overall prospects — especially when Bobrovsky plays like he did.

Did the third period give the Panthers a blueprint for how to contain the Oilers?

The Oilers opened the game with 12 shots in the first period and 13 shots in the second, so it was jarring that they managed just seven in the third. And while that was not the first time this postseason an opponent kept them to single digits in shots for a period, it was the first time a team had found a way to silence what has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous attacks.

The Oilers finished with a shot share of 60% in the third period, which shows they were able to hold onto possession. But they mustered only six scoring chances while in desperation mode in the final frame, struggling to find space. Part of the problem? The Panthers took away time and space, finishing with 63 hits and blocking 21 shots.



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