Oilers unfazed down 2-0, look for offensive spark vs. Panthers

If the pressure is on the Edmonton Oilers, they are doing everything possible to alleviate those feelings in anticipation of Thursday’s Stanley Cup Final home clash with the Florida Panthers.

Down 2-0 to the Panthers in the best-of-seven series, the Oilers are well aware Game 3 will swing their fortunes greatly in either direction. Even so, the plan of attack is to simply remain calm and hit the ice.

“There’s nothing to be tight about,” Edmonton forward Zach Hyman said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’re in a great series here. I thought we played one really good game and they played a good game. We’re down two, but we haven’t lost on home ice. That’s the key; go out and take care of business at home. Win one game, that’s it.”

The Oilers have shown plenty of mettle since starting the regular season with only two wins in their first dozen games, but lately the high-octane squad has been stymied. Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky delivered a brilliant shutout performance in the opener and followed that with a 4-1 victory in Game 2.

Edmonton desperately needs a spark to ignite its attack, which has even been blanked on seven power-play opportunities.

“We usually solve penalty kills, and I would expect us to figure this one out, too,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said.

On the injury front, Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said defenseman Darnell Nurse, who had only three shifts in the final 50-plus minutes last game after being on the receiving end of a hard check, is expected to play. The Oilers intend to return veteran forward Corey Perry to the lineup, with the likely candidate to come out being Evander Kane, who has been hampered by an undisclosed ailment.

Speaking of injuries, the Panthers appear to have avoided a serious issue, with captain Aleksander Barkov well enough to practice on Wednesday. Barkov, who is not only a scoring star but considered the league’s best defensive center, missed the final half of the third period last game after being hit in the head by Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl.

“Felt better today,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Got through skate today as far as I know. He’ll get checked after. Get him on a plane, get him off a plane, get him on the ice, and we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow. He looked good today.”

Fellow forward Vladimir Tarasenko did not practice due to “a minor thing” Maurice said, nor did defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forward Eetu Luostarinen, but all are expected to play.

Therefore, it appears the Panthers will have all hands on deck as they attempt to take a stranglehold on the series. In finals history, 49 of the 54 teams to previously win the first two games of the series have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.

“We’re feeling confident in our game,” Luostarinen said. “Up 2-0 is a good spot, but we know there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s going to be hard to play there. Their home crowd is going to be loud, too.”

In Edmonton’s favor is that 11 of the last 14 teams to face a 2-0 deficit in the finals have won Game 3, including the Panthers last year, although they eventually dropped the series to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

The Panthers, who have surrendered two or fewer goals in all five games of their current winning streak and in 12 of their last 13 outings, boast a 6-2 road record during the playoffs.