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Oilers say speed, winning puck battles will be key in Game 3 against Panthers

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The head coach of the Edmonton Oilers and the usual members of his team's top forward line on Wednesday all preached the need for speed and controlling the puck as they seek their first victory of the Stanley Cup Final.

While the Oilers decidedly controlled the play of Saturday's Game 1 against the Florida Panthers, outshooting the hosts and getting breakaways on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the result was still a shutout loss.

The Panthers dominated Game 2 in Sunrise, Fla., limiting the Oilers' shots while capitalizing on mistakes to score in a 4-1 win.

Back home for Thursday's Game 3 at Edmonton's Rogers Place, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said his players need to play "faster" to combat the Panthers' neutral-zone strategy for success.

"Any time you play a team, there are always structures and you always want to get into that, whether it's us, Dallas, any team in the NHL, they want to get into their structure," he told media on Wednesday at Rogers Place following practice.

"Everyone's in a position to defend and know their responsibilities. The faster you can play and move the puck, it doesn't allow them to get set up."

Both Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the wingers who typically flank star centre Connor McDavid, said winning puck battles — quickly getting to the puck first — is key to their offensive fortunes.

"There are many different areas of the ice (where) it doesn't seem like that's where you create offence, but those little puck battles — on the wall, in your own zone and the neutral zone, in the corners — lead to offence, so it's you having the puck," Hyman said.

"We've just got to get back to skating and working."

Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skates with the puck as Florida Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues defends during Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on June 8, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)Nugent-Hopkins said "simplifying" their play through the neutral zone and getting to Florida's defencemen quickly on the forecheck should lead to more puck possession.

"They do a good job of having the forwards come back to tracking back hard, so there's not going to be many odd man rushes," he said.

"You're not going to be able to create a whole ton off the rush, so it's about coming together with speed and creating loose pucks on the forecheck and going from there."

McDavid said the Oilers need to lean on a "five-on-five" mentality — "just using instinct" — to combat the Panthers' smothering defence while also injecting life into their usually lethal power play, which has a commanding 32.8-per-cent success rate this post-season but is zero-for-seven in the Cup Final.

"We call it playing road hockey. We've got to be elite at that," McDavid said.

"They're doing a great job of making it tough on us, but with that being said, the power play has been together for a long time. We've been great at what we do, and we usually solve penalty-kills, and I would expect us to figure this one out, too."

Weather delays Panthers' flight to Edmonton

The Panthers aren't expected to arrive in Edmonton until just after 8 p.m. Wednesday night following a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay.

Florida's flight, expected to take five hours and 42 minutes, was held up by a storm, pushing takeoff time from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from 1 p.m. ET to 4:30 p.m. ET.