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Panthers see another chance at Cup slip away, fall to Oilers 5-3 in Game 5

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk took off at full speed from basically center ice, chasing a puck that had sailed over his head and was heading directly toward an empty net.

He dove. He outstretched his stick. He swatted and barely, just barely, knocked the puck away to keep the Florida Panthers’ hope of forcing overtime alive. Problem was, the next person who got to the puck was Connor McDavid — who scored to put the game away.

Such was how Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final went for the Panthers. Even when they were good, it wasn’t good enough. And another long flight to Alberta awaits, with this title series suddenly looking very tight.

The Panthers gave up two power-play goals and a short-handed score, got into a 3-0 hole before trying to rally and wound up falling 5-3 to the Edmonton Oilers in Game 5 of the title series on Tuesday night. It was the second consecutive time Florida was thwarted in a chance to win the Cup, after an 8-1 embarrassment in Edmonton over the weekend.

Game 6 is there on Friday night.

“I’m not pumping tires. I’m not rubbing backs. I don’t think we need that at all,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Everybody feels probably exactly the way I do right now. I’m not feeling deflated. Neither’s the hockey team. They’re not feeling deflated. Little grumpy.”

Maybe a lot grumpy.

“We’re going to turn the page,” forward Evan Rodrigues said. “We’re going to learn from this one.”

Rodrigues and Tkachuk each had a goal and an assist for Florida, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored for the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 shots for Florida, which will see its 30-years-and-counting wait for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title last at least three more days.

“We get another crack at it on Friday,” Tkachuk said.

McDavid had two goals and two assists to become the first player in NHL history to have back-to-back four-point games in the Stanley Cup Final, and Evan Bouchard added three assists for Edmonton. Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Corey Perry also had goals for the Oilers while Stuart Skinner stopped 29 shots.

McDavid said it was a total team effort. It was, but it was also another superhuman effort from McDavid, the game’s best player who is doing things never before done in the title series.

The four points gave McDavid 42 in these playoffs, the fourth-most in a single postseason in NHL history. The only players ahead of him are the ones everyone would expect: Wayne Gretzky had 47 points in 1985, Mario Lemieux had 44 in 1991 and Gretzky had 43 in 1988.

McDavid will have at least one — and, he hopes, two — games to add to that total. If there is a Game 7, it’ll be in Sunrise on Monday night.

“Anytime you’re in the same realm as those two, it’s always a good thing,” McDavid said.

It was the first time in Panthers history that they played a home game with a chance to win the Cup. Another sellout crowd came, some of the paying more than $1,000 apiece for tickets on the secondary market — the crowd pushing Florida’s total attendance for the season over 1 million for the first time.

They came to see the trophy.

The Oilers just wouldn’t let it happen. And when it was over, Tkachuk was asked if the Panthers feel the pressure.

“No. No. No,” Tkachuk said. “It’s not an elimination game for us. We’re going up there, we have a 3-2 series lead, just got to take care of business like we did in Game 3.”

Edmonton came into the night having scored 10 of the series’ last 11 goals — a 2-0 third period in its Game 3 loss, then the 8-1 romp in Game 4.

And the Oilers picked up right where they left off, with an absolute clinic of special-teams hockey.

Game 5 started just as Game 4 did, with Edmonton getting a short-handed goal. Brown assisted it on Saturday night; he scored it unassisted in this one, and the Oilers were on their way. Florida took a penalty — interference by Niko Mikkola — as time expired in the first and it proved costly.

Hyman made it 2-0 with two seconds left in the second-period-opening power play, and McDavid pushed Edmonton’s lead to 3-0 from a ridiculously tough angle that he made look easy three minutes later.

The three-goal lead has been infallible in the Stanley Cup Final for almost two decades; no team had lost after leading by three in a title-series game since Edmonton against Carolina in 2006. Every team since then, 39-0 in such games.

Make it 40-0. But the Panthers made it interesting.

It was 4-2 by the end of the second, Tkachuk and Rodrigues sandwiching goals around Perry’s first of the playoffs — set up by a brilliant pass from McDavid. Ekman-Larsson scored early in the third, but the equalizer never came.

“Never want to put yourself behind the 8-ball,” Rodrigues said. “We’ve got to win one game. Simple as that. Go up there, got to win one game. That’s our mindset. That’s what we’re going to go do.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer

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