Panthers ready for their 2nd chance at clinching Cup, while Oilers seeking to force Game 6

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Paul Maurice made the short trip from his home to the Florida Panthers’ practice facility on Monday morning in a pretty good mood and rightly so. The sunshine was bright, the temperature was warm and his team was one win away from claiming the Stanley Cup.

That’s the glass-half-full outlook. The glass-half-empty perspective would be how his Panthers were coming off a seven-goal loss — tying the second-worst defeat by any team in a playoff game since 2001 and tying the second-worst loss in a Cup final game ever.

As such, when asked if he was comfortable with a 3-1 series lead over the Edmonton Oilers in this title series, Maurice quickly explained that that simply doesn’t exist at this time of year.

“Oh, no, there’s no comfort in the playoffs,” the Panthers coach said. “You’re never in a comfortable position in the playoffs. You’ve earned your wins. You’ve earned your losses. It’s the same feeling. Every playoff loss feels the same. Maybe other people get comfortable. I haven’t had that for 30 years. You’re never comfortable. Which is good, right? Just got to harness it.”

The Panthers will seek to do just that on Tuesday night when, for the first time in their history, they will take to home ice one win from the Cup. Game 5 of the title series is in Sunrise, where the Oilers try to extend their season again and Florida tries to close out the series, the season and a 30-year quest for the franchise’s first championship.

Edmonton won Game 4 on Saturday night 8-1, the seventh time ever that a Cup final game was decided by seven or more goals. The record for differential was Pittsburgh’s 8-0 win over Minnesota in 1991.

“We’ve got the Stanley Cup on the line,” Florida forward Evan Rodrigues said. “Kind of a ‘How badly do you want it?’-type deal. There was a lot of energy going into that game. I think we’ll be better prepared for Game 5.”

The Oilers would expect nothing less.

It’s not fair to compare Edmonton’s horrible start to the season — it was at the bottom of the NHL a few weeks into the year — to being down 3-0 in the Cup final, but there is a parallel there in that the Oilers know what it’s like to play with no room for error. It brought out their best during the regular season, with a 16-game winning streak highlighting their turnaround, and brought out their best in Game 4.

“For us, being able to get to where we are shows everybody, no matter what they say, that we came together as a brotherhood,” Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner said. “So, there’s nothing but love in the room for the guys. A very special group of guys that just showed a lot of character through everything that we’ve been through. Here we are again, facing elimination, and we’re going to fight together, like we always do.”

Down 3-0 in the title series, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch told his players that he wanted them to enjoy their last 10 days together. The meaning was clear: He fully believes his club can take this series to the limit and see what happens in a Game 7.

One win down, two to go before those Game 7 hopes become reality.

“I don’t think it was ever a doubt that they weren’t a good team and they could be here today,” Knoblauch said. “I think belief was always part of that room.”

The Panthers have it as well.

They’re 4-1 after losses in these playoffs, outscoring their opponents by a combined 21-10 count in those five games that immediately followed a defeat. Granted, none of those previous five defeats in this postseason run resembled anything close to Saturday’s 8-1 rout.

“Can’t dwell on what’s in the past,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “I think the boys obviously were pretty (angry) about the result, about the outcome that we put forward. But we pushed that pretty quick after we left the arena and we’ll focus on the next one.”

The way Maurice sees it, Saturday has to be a learning experience.

Edmonton was desperate, Florida wasn’t ready and that was that. The Cup will be in the building again Tuesday, ready for Florida to claim, just like it was on Saturday.

“It is different,” Maurice said of playing a game with the Cup one win away. “There’s the feeling of the goal sits in front of the game that’s played. So, in Game 3, the goal is behind the game. Can’t win it tonight. The game becomes priority. But when you can, then it sits in front of the game and you’ve got to break through it or figure out a way to get it behind the game again. I don’t know if that makes great sense, but it’s foremost in your head coming to the rink. You know it’s there.”


AP NHL playoffs: and

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