Bob 1, McJesus 0: Florida Panthers shut out Edmonton, McDavid in Stanley Cup Final Game 1 | Opinion

The Stanley Cup itself was slid slowly and ceremoniously to center ice before Game 1 atop a black-draped table, handled with care by two league officials wearing white gloves. It is the prize that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in the house Saturday night, called “the most storied trophy in all of sports.”

Florida Panthers fans broke into a “We want the Cup!” chant.

Then their team brought them one step closer to owning it.

The final score was 3-0 on goals by Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrgues and a late empty netter by Eetu Luostarinen.

But here is ther real score of Game 1 and the Stanley Cup Finals thus far:

Bob 1, McJesus 0.

The horn blasted only three times. The “Bob-by!” chants for goaltender Sergei Bobrvosky seemingly never stopped.

It’s why that rats were on the ice at the end.

Bobrovsky not only shut out the Oilers to open these Final. He shut out Connor McDavid, the Edmonton superstar whom some call McJesus, some call The Chosen One and everybody calls the best player in hockey. And he is. The McJesus and Next Gretzky stuff seems a bit much for a player in his ninth season finally in his first Stanley Cup. But I don’t wanna repeat myself.

The point of this game is that Bobrovsky was better than the best player in the world.

Edmonton had three power plays and Florida killed them all — Bob the backbone of it.

Bob stopped alll 34 Edmonton shots — and many of those were of the point-blank, how’d-he-stop-that variety. The kind that make the “Bob-by” chants bloom in a bed of euphoria.

It was among the best biggest-stage performances in South Florida sports history.

“They are a good team. Is big challenge,” said Bobrovsky afterward, never as good at quotes as he is at stopping goals.

Remarkably, we can all remember when Bobrovsky was seen as overpaid and underperforming, a rather unpopular player. Now he the beloved veteran and savior hearing his nickname chanted.

Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) blocks a shot by Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) in the second period of Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday, June 8, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) blocks a shot by Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) in the second period of Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday, June 8, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.

Little time to savor in ther NHL Final, though, with Game 2 upon us and Florida needing a better all-round performance than the one that easily could have beern a loss if not for the man in goal.

Question of the week to the Panthers was: How do you slow down McDavid?

Stock answer: “You don’t,” as Aaron Ekblad put it.

Except when maximum-Bob shows up.

“It’s truly the advantage for us having a guy who’s seen it all,” said coach Paul Maurice of his goalie.

Edmonton had more dangerous offensive chances Saturday night and plainly would have won if not for Bobrovsky.

The night that began the Stanley Cup Final marked only the fifth Final home game in the franchise’s 30-season history — and the first time the Cats have led the series in a Final. The occasion and the opening were both were momentous.

Game 1 results matter a lot. In NHL playoff history teams up 1-0 with a win at home win the series 74.9 percent of the time. Of course the pressure on both teams does not let up entering Game 2 back in Sunrise on Monday night.

An Edmonton win for a split would send the Oilers on that long flight home feeling momentum, feeling good.

Another Florida win would have the Cats halfway to that silver chalice.

Florida seemed a bit unsettled at the outset but made that vibe disappear with Verhaeghe’s wrist-shot goal in close to make it 1-0 just 3:59 in. It was textbook interplay by the first-line forwards, Sam Reinhart to Aleksander Barkov, then Barlky with the perfect feed to Verhaeghe.

“An unusual performer, that man,” Maurice of Verhaeghe. “The guy’s a gamer.”

“Definitely we can play better,” Verhaeghe said. “They outshot us [32-18). Had more chances.”

Both teams made nothing of an early power-play chance. Edmonton’s was its club-record 29th consecutive penalty kill.

Ominously, the Panthers managed only four shots on goal in the opening period, to the Oilers’ 13. The solution was Bobrovsky making three 1-on-1 stops that brought out the “Bob-by!” chants. Bob denied Edmonton megastar McDavid point-blank, did the same against a charge by Adam Henrique, then stopped Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play.

Panthers made it 2-0 on a Rodrigues goal only 2:16 into the second period. A Sam Bennett pass from behind the net eluded defenseman Darnell Nurse to find Rodrigues uncovered for a snap shot that plain beat goalie Stuart Skinner.

“I thought the ‘D’ was gonna catch that but it came right to me,” said the scorer.

Bobrovsky’s clear advantage over he opposing goalie has not seemed bigger this whole postseason than right now.

Edmonton continued to pressure in close, but Bobrovsky had the answers.

So many intriguing elements to this Final matchup:

Some starved fans are going to be happy for the first time in a long time. Canada might celebrate its first Stanley Cup win since 1993. That’s if Edmonton raises its first up since 1990. Or, Florida might play spoiler and continue our northern neighbors’ misery by winning the first NHL championship in the Panthers’ 30-season history.

In keeping with that story line, the unlikely state of Florida has a team in the Final for a fifth year in a row — something no other U.S. state or Canadian province has done. That’s right: For now, the state of record heat owns the sport that plays on ice.

An Edmonton triumph would mean McDavid, consensus best player in hockey, would finally add the missing Stanley Cup to his otherwise impeccable resume’.

A Florida triumph would do the same for Maurice. He is fourth in all-time NHL coaching victories across 26 seasons — but has yet to lift the Stanley Cup, falling in the Final 2002 with Carolina and last season with the Cats.

“I need to win one,” the 57-year-old hockey lifer said bluntly this week, an admission that surprised me. “It’s not gonna change my life that’s not related to hockey. But I’m 30 years into this thing. Yeah, I’d really like to win one.”

His players adore Maurice and know that.

“We definitely want to get it for him,” said Matthew Tkachuk.

A Panthers minor-league affiliate coached by Maurice’s son won its league championship this week.

“Two years in a two rings,” said the proud father. “He’s gonna be unbearable!”

This matchup also happens to mars the greatest distance between two competing teams, their home arenas 2,543 miles apart, or a near-eight-hour flight. The previous Final distance record was when Vancouver and Boston met in 2011.

“We spend a lot of time on that plane,” McDavid said. “We’re one of the most-traveled teams in the league, so it’s only fitting that we’re going to play in the furthest Stanley Cup Final of all time.”

This Final found the Panthers coming in, and finds them coming out of Game 1, full of confidence they are not afraid to show or say aloud.

“We expected ourselves to be here right now,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “Now we gonna take that next step.”