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Grades, takeaways after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final

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Panthers on brink of Stanley Cup glory after Game 3 win over Oilers (2:50)The Panthers hang on to defeat the Oilers in Edmonton 4-3 and move one step closer to capturing the Stanley Cup. (2:50)

The scene changed for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, but the end result was the same as Games 1 and 2, as the Florida Panthers beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 on Thursday night and are one win away from the franchise’s first championship.

After Florida opened the scoring in the first, Edmonton tied the score at 1, followed by three straight tallies by the Panthers. The Oilers got within a goal with about five minutes left, but thanks to some clutch defensive play and saves by Sergei Bobrovsky, the hosts could not get the equalizer.

Here are our grades for both teams, along with takeaways that stuck out the most, key players to watch for Game 4 and the big questions left unanswered prior to Saturday night’s potential Cup clincher (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Panthers grade: A-

Florida came dangerously close to letting Game 4 slip away.

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The Panthers let Edmonton chip away at their 4-1 third-period lead until it was an almost uncomfortable one-goal win — protected primarily by Bobrovsky’s save on Ryan McLeod in the final minutes of a frantic third period.

But that final score is all that matters; Florida is a victory away from the franchise’s first championship.

It wouldn’t be the case if not for a fantastic performance (again) by Bobrovsky, an all-in effort from Florida’s entire lineup and a penalty kill that has continued to hold the Oilers’ vaunted power play at bay. Even while Edmonton clawed its way back, it never seemed like the Panthers panicked. There is something about this team that allows the players to remain calm even when circumstances begin to seem dire. It’s a superpower Florida will try to wield again when it attempts to raise the Cup with a win in Game 4.

Oilers grade: C-

Even with their late third-period push, all the questions surrounding the Oilers’ struggles with the Panthers during the Stanley Cup Final were answered in Game 3.

Scratch that. All the questions surrounding the Oilers’ struggles during the Stanley Cup Final were answered in the second period of Game 3.

Even with a heavy number of shots on goal, they couldn’t generate the quality of shot that placed Bobrovsky under constant threat. They kept getting beat, which is what led to them having breakdown after breakdown. That led to the Panthers scoring as many goals in the second period as the Oilers had scored in the first eight periods of this series. The third-period rally made things exciting but was ultimately fruitless.

What we learned in Game 3

Aleksander Barkov is a on another level

Edmonton’s stars have not shown up on the scoresheet in this series. Florida hasn’t had that problem — especially when it comes to Barkov. The Panthers’ captain was not only his team’s best forward, but the top skater in Game 3.

His effort to dig a puck out along the wall led to Sam Reinhart‘s opening goal. And the individual effort Barkov put in to score late in the second period and essentially seal the victory — in no small part by entirely deflating the Oilers’ chances of a comeback — was sensational. Barkov’s health had been in question following the high hit from Leon Draisaitl in Game 2, but there was no question Barkov was feeling just fine given the performance he put on Thursday.

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Aleksander Barkov pads Panthers’ lead with quick goal

Aleksander Barkov evades two Oilers defenders and finishes at the net with another Panthers’ goal.

Florida could help Sergei Bobrovsky a bit, too

The Panthers have done so much right in this series. Their penalty kill is elite — it can’t get any higher, at 100%. Their entire lineup is contributing with an impressive depth on full display. Their commitment to team defense continues to be a catalyst in their success. And Bobrovsky has been playing lights-out in net while Florida holds Edmonton’s top shooters off the board (his save on Draisaitl in the first period was particularly eye-popping).

However, the Panthers were outshot in Game 3 for the first time in this Cup Final, and Bobrovsky had to do more heavy lifting than in previous victories — and this one reached nail-biter territory given how the Oilers pushed back in the third. Florida had just one shot on goal through the first half of the final frame when it was already on the wrong side of the ledger there, 29-18.

The Panthers were masterful at suppressing the Oilers’ chances against Bobrovsky in Games 1 and 2, and that’s what they need to show again in Game 4 if they want to complete the sweep.

The Oilers are getting secondary scoring

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It started with Warren Foegele. It continued with Philip Broberg and again with Ryan McLeod tallying a goal with 5:17 left in the third period.

One of the biggest questions facing the Oilers going into the Stanley Cup Final was whether they could receive a consistent amount of secondary scoring. So far, they have. The Oilers’ first five goals of the series have all come from secondary and tertiary sources, which is what allowed them to take Game 3 from what was once a three-goal hole to one that became dangerously close to overtime.

But even with those goals from Broberg, Foegele and McLeod, it raises a complex discussion about the Oilers: While it shows the Oilers can indeed get goals from other sources, is it a viable strategy at a time in which Evan Bouchard, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have not scored in this Cup Final?

Bad things continue to happen in threes for the Oilers

It happened in the first round, when the Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the first period of Game 2. The same goes for when the Vancouver Canucks scored three goals in the third period of Game 1 in a second-round series. Then there’s the three goals the Dallas Stars scored in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

So what the Panthers did by scoring three unanswered goals in the second period, while jarring, was far from a surprise considering it has happened, well, three previous times this postseason.

Players to watch in Game 4

Gustav Forsling, D, Panthers

The attention in this series has squarely fallen on forwards and goaltenders. Forsling deserves what spotlight has come his way — and it’s only going to burn brighter in Game 4.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice called Forsling the best defenseman in the world “in his style,” and that point is continually hard to argue when you see what Forsling has been able to do. He has had Edmonton’s number in this series, through how quickly he can read the play and have an impact.

When Forsling is on the ice, he’s a significant threat in all three zones, and it’s obvious how the rest of Florida’s defensive effort funnels through him. When the Panthers attempt to clinch in Game 4, it will likely be in no small part because of Forsling and how he’s able to set a tone and consistently be one of the best defenders on the ice.

Connor McDavid, C, Oilers

While McDavid has yet to score in the series, his two third-period assists were crucial in keeping the game close. No one player makes a team. Or in the case of the Oilers, no two generational centers make a team.

That said, the fact that the Oilers scrambled to score two third-period goals — with none of them being scored by Bouchard, Draisaitl, Hyman, McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins — shows that the Oilers can get contributions from their supporting cast, but that they also need goals from their stars as well.

That has to start with the superstar wearing a “C” on his sweater.

Big questions for Game 4

Is Florida ready to finish?

The last victory is the hardest to get for a reason. It’s going to take everything Florida has on the ice to sweep the Oilers out of a Cup Final in their building.

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There’s a landslide of factors that can influence how a team approaches a game when the stakes are this high, and Florida is low on experience. Yes, the Panthers have closed out multiple series in the past two years, but never one in which names are etched into hockey history at the end. Reaching that point requires more than just complete buy-in. It’s weathering adversity on every shift and matching urgency in ways Florida hasn’t experienced at any other pinnacle before.

Are the Panthers ready to deliver that final blow?

Could that third period be the start of something for the Oilers? Or was it the beginning of the end?

Getting two goals in that third period, on a night when they had three goals total, was massive after they scored one goal combined in the first two games. Scoring three goals in this one could be a sign they might have found an answer in the offensive zone.

But could it be enough? Even with the three goals they scored in Game 3, the Oilers still allowed four, which also comes with this particular significance: The Oilers allowed 14 goals in six games against the Stars in the Western Conference finals; they’ve allowed 11 goals to the Panthers in three Stanley Cup Final games. They’ll need to improve on both ends to get a win, much less make this a series.

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Updated: Juni 14, 2024 — 6:41 am

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