Florida moves within two games of Stanley Cup glory

And the end of the Stanley Cup took a heated turn Monday night.

Evan Rodrigues scored a pair of goals in the third period, Niko Mikkola and Aaron Ekblad also scored and the Panthers used another tight shot to pull away and beat the Oilers 4-1 to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for Florida, which was 1-8 all-time in Cup finals before this series began, and is now two wins away from capturing its first championship. Score in two games: Florida 7, Edmonton 1.

“A six-man job against the best players in the world,” Ekblad said.

But the victory came at a price for Florida, as the Panthers lost Barkov, their captain, when Edmonton forward Draisaitl lunged at him midway through the third period and hit him in the head. Barkov remained inactive for some time, needed help to the bench and went down the tunnel to the Florida locker room for further evaluation.

Florida coach Paul Maurice offered no update on Barkov's condition and was much more reserved than he usually is after wins.

“This is not The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Maurice said of Barkov's jab. “My feelings don't matter.”

Mattias Ekholm scored and Stuart Skinner stopped 25 shots for the Oilers, who now have some serious history to contend with.

Edmonton has only successfully recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series once: against San Jose in Round 2 of the 2006 playoffs. And teams that begin the Stanley Cup Final with from a 2-0 deficit have come back to win just five times in 54 previous situations.

“I think we feel like we came here and played well enough to split it,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “It doesn't always happen.”

The series resumes with game three in Edmonton on Thursday night.

“We can certainly be better,” Draisaitl said. “Start with me. …I certainly have much more to give. Not my best moment tonight. Obviously, owning that.”

Draisaitl received only a minor penalty for mishandling the hit that took Barkov out of the game. Rodrigues scored a goal to make it 3-1, the first power-play goal Edmonton had allowed in its last 34 chances with a man down.

Connor McDavid had a chance to pull Edmonton within one on a breakaway with about 6 minutes left. Bobrovsky stopped him, and then he and Matthew Tkachuk fought a bit along the boards after the play; The Panthers were still furious about the hit on Barkov.

“I have no answer or comment on that,” Tkachuk said when asked what he thought of Draisaitl's hit on Barkov, and whether he had any level of concern that the Florida captain might miss time.

McDavid said of the hit: “I thought it was part of the game.”

And Ekblad added: “We hope he's okay.”

Emotions were high all night. Edmonton's Warren Foegele was ejected in the first period for a knee-to-knee hit that briefly knocked Florida's Eetu Luostarinen out of the game; That ejection, plus an injury to Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, left them with just 11 forwards and five defensemen for much of the game.

Rodrigues scored early in the third off a turnover for a 2-1 lead, setting the tone for another Florida comeback. The Panthers, who trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes, are now the NHL's best 5-2 when trailing after a stretch in these playoffs.

Ekblad sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 2:28 left.

“It's supposed to be difficult. It's supposed to be difficult,†McDavid said. “I'm excited to see what our group is made of.”

Just like in Game 1, one team capitalized on their first shot. Saturday was Florida and this time Edmonton.

There wasn't much to say: Ekholm skated almost the length of the ice with the teams playing 4-on-4, unleashing a seemingly harmless shot that sailed between Bobrovsky's leg pads and into the back of the net. McDavid, who played in the building where he was selected in the 2015 draft, had one of the assists on the goal, his 27th assist this postseason.

Midway through the second, the Panthers tied it. Mikkola had two shots per turn; one was on the wrong network and the other more than made up for that near miss.

Moments after he inadvertently launched a backhander towards Bobrovsky, who was alert enough to save his teammate from the embarrassment of an own goal, Mikkola handled a delivery from Anton Lundell and past Skinner to lead Florida to a 1-1 tie.

“Bob was awake,” Mikkola said.

Shots were 22-7 Florida after 40 minutes, and the Oilers, who led the league in shots on goal this season, were held to a season low entering the third. Bobrovsky was tested much more in the third than in the first two periods, but he rose to the occasion again and gave up two goals or fewer for the twelfth time in his last 13 games.

And Florida, for the first time, is two wins away from the Cup.

“It's special,†Rodrigues said. “Trying to accept it. Trying to stay in the moment. They are two great victories for our team, but I think we have already turned the page and we are preparing for the third game.†.