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How the Oilers can continue to break through the Panthers’ defence and Sergei Bobrovsky

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
NHL_Sid
29 days ago
One game at a time.
With a commanding 8-1 win in Game 4 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Finals, the Edmonton Oilers stay alive, denying Florida the opportunity to sweep the series after the Panthers won the first three games. As both teams head back to Florida, it’s not over yet.
Winning by a margin of seven goals, Edmonton’s victory sets a record for the largest margin of victory by any team facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Finals. Per Sportsnet Stats, the previous record was held by the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs – which, by the way, are the only team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the finals to win the Cup. At least, for now.
It is worth noting that the last time the Oilers lost three straight games, they responded with five consecutive wins. Before their historic sixteen-game winning streak this season, they were also on a three-game losing streak.
Yes, the odds are against Edmonton, as winning four straight games against this Florida team will be an incredibly difficult task, and is statistically unlikely. But, if there is any team in the NHL that can go on a four-game heater, it’s Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
Now, the Oilers scored a mere four goals from Games 1 through 3, before scoring eight in Game 4. How can they continue to break through Florida’s defence and goaltending for the remainder of this series as they did in Game 4?
In the first three games of the series, the Oilers were ahead 86 to 70 in shots, 76 to 57 in scoring chances, and 31 to 27 in high-danger chances per Natural Stat Trick. Simply put, they controlled possession and scoring chances – unfortunately, that means moot in the Stanley Cup Finals when you’re up against a goaltender like Sergei Bobrovsky. 
Per Meghan Chayka and Stathletes, Bobrovsky saved 5.44 goals above expected in the first three games. Put differently, if a league-average goaltender was in Bobrovsky’s place, they would be expected to allow roughly ~5-6 more goals based on Edmonton’s shot volume and quality. 
A 5.4 GSAx in just three games is an extremely impressive feat from Bobrovsky. Not to mention, Bobrovsky posted a 0.950 save percentage on inner slot shots, saving 19 of Edmonton’s 20 shots from the inner slot. 
To put that into perspective, Connor Hellebuyck and Thatcher Demko were the other two Vezina nominees this season. Per NHL EDGE, Demko held a 0.846 save percentage in the inner-slot area in the regular season, while Hellebuyck was at a mere 0.611; that’s how impressive Bobrovsky’s performance was in the first three games of the cup finals. If the Panthers were to sweep the Oilers, there was a very strong chance Bobrovsky would have won the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP. 
However, Bobrovsky’s odds of winning the Conn Smythe may have just plummeted after his performance on Saturday night.
The dam finally broke for Edmonton in Game 4, as the Oilers scored five goals on 16 shots against Bobrovsky, who was eventually pulled from the game.
While Edmonton did not deserve to win Game 2, failing to register a single high-danger chance against Bobrovsky at 5-on-5, they generated plenty of quality scoring chances in Games 1, 3 and 4. But, there was one key difference between their offence from the first three games of the series and Game 4: the type of chances they created.
All five of Edmonton’s goals against Bobrovsky came off the rush. This is important to note.
Before the finals began, I went back and watched every 5-on-5 goal Florida scored and every 5-on-5 goal they allowed. I categorized them into four different shot types – rush, forecheck, cycle and faceoff. Rush goals are any goals within ~6 seconds of a controlled zone entry, forecheck goals are any goals within ~4-5 seconds of a turnover or a dump-in recovery, faceoff goals are any goals within ~6 seconds of a faceoff win, and cycle goals are any goals coming off extended offensive zone time that do not meet the criteria of the other categories.
I’ve continued to keep track of this data in the finals. Here’s an updated and in-depth look at their goal differential so far:
At this point, it is obvious how deadly Florida’s forecheck is. They boast an incredibly impressive 75 percent goal differential off the forecheck, and it’s a massive reason why they are a single win away from winning it all.
However, they are a net negative in the playoffs in rush goals, sporting a -4 goal share off the rush. They have allowed 17 goals off the rush, more than their GA from the other three categories combined. This makes it clear that rush shots are a relative area of weakness for Bobrovsky.
Furthermore, here is a fascinating deep dive on Bobrovsky from Blue Seat Blogs a few weeks back. The article outlines Bobrovsky’s strengths and weaknesses, and an interesting stat it mentions is that Bobrovsky allowed 21 goals on his high-glove side in the regular season, more than any other area of the net. At the time of the piece, he also allowed 10 goals on his high-glove side in the playoffs, which accounted for 40 percent of all goals he allowed. Additionally, per InGoal Magazine, 23 out of Bobrovsky’s 38 total goals allowed (61%) heading into the cup finals were up high.
These cup finals have made it evident Bobrovsky is superb in-zone. He excels at stopping high-quality slot shots off the cycle, especially down low. This is a major reason for Florida’s fantastic PK and why Edmonton has yet to score a single power-play goal against Bobrovsky in this series.
But, Bobrovsky remains beatable. The key to breaking through Bobrovsky is to attack off the rush, make him move, and shoot high. 

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Darnell Nurse’s 5-1 goal in Game 4 is a great example. Connor McDavid enters the offensive zone with speed, and drops the puck to Nurse, who fires a fantastic shot off the rush that rips past Bobrovsky’s high-blocker. This was the eventual nail in the coffin for Bobrovsky, as he would be pulled for the remainder of the game. Per InGoal Magazine, the Oilers registered just two shots in the upper-third area of the net in Game 1; there was a clear change on Saturday night in that regard.
Now, creating rush chances against this Florida team in the first place is a difficult task, and much easier said than done. Despite their subpar rush goal differential in the playoffs, the rush defence from Florida’s skaters remains outstanding.
Most rush attacks will begin from defensive zone breakouts, and the Panthers are the NHL’s best team at disrupting breakouts, thus consistently thwarting potential rush attacks before they even begin by forcing failed zone exits. Additionally, the Panthers ranked first in the regular season in zone entry denial percentage per AllThreeZones. They have very tight gaps, and defend the blueline quite aggressively.
Effective breakouts will be key for the Oilers to break past the Panthers in the neutral zone and generate transitional chances. The defenders must consistently make smart plays, and there should be plenty of forward support along the boards and down low in the defensive zone.
Luckily, there were plenty of examples of excellent breakouts from Game 4. Let’s analyze more video:

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Watch the 2-0 goal from Adam Henrique. The play begins with a dump-in by Florida. Ekholm retrieves the dump-in, and under pressure, he quickly moves the puck up the boards to Mattias Janmark, who beats Niko Mikkola at the blue line. Janmark fires a fantastic pass to Henrique, finishing the play. Smart, effective, quick puck movement up the ice by Ekholm and Janmark makes this play happen, and Janmark’s pass forces Bobrovsky to move.

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The Oilers’ 3-1 goal begins with a missed pass by the Panthers, which results in a loose puck in Edmonton’s defensive zone. Barkov is initially about to beat the Oilers’ defenders to the puck, but Skinner successfully moves it to Janmark. To his credit, Stenlund does a good job pressuring Janmark, but Janmark still manages to effectively pass it to Kulak, who fires a gorgeous stretch pass to Draisaitl. From there, Draisaitl beats Ekblad at the blueline and fires a royal road pass to Dylan Holloway, who makes a nifty move and buries it.
Once again, this play begins off a defensive-zone retrieval, leading to a zone exit, which then leads to a zone entry, and from there, Edmonton forces Bobrovsky to move, and the Oilers finish the play.

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This goal is not against Bobrovsky but is another instance of how to beat Florida’s defence. Following a failed power play by Florida, they dump the puck into Edmonton’s zone, and there is a puck battle behind the net between Florida’s forecheckers and Edmonton’s defenders. However, McDavid is also involved down low, and his excellent puck support allows the Oilers to break out. Holloway exits the defensive zone, Perry enters the offensive zone, and both Perry and McDavid’s passing once again forces Florida’s goaltender to move, and Holloway scores his second rush goal of the game.
Overall, this is what changed for Edmonton in Game 4 in my view.
As mentioned previously, Florida has a tenacious forecheck and very aggressively defends the blueline; as a result, they constantly limit time and space for the opposition to make plays. The Oilers countered this in Game 4 by using their speed, skill, and positioning to create more time and space, as they stretched the ice and made quick, effective breakouts with consistent forward support.
The big difference in Game 4 was that the Oilers were making better zone exits, they were creating more shots off those zone exits, they won more puck battles at the offensive blueline, and they consistently shot the puck high, alongside superb pre-shot movement.
All-in-all, Edmonton must consistently make these sorts of plays to have any chance to win this series. The key to beating Florida’s defence and goaltending all begins in the defensive zone. Move the puck up the ice quickly and effectively, gain the offensive blueline with control, and force Bobrovsky to move. The hope is that the Oilers are now in Bobrovsky’s head, and will continue to generate offence the way they did in Game 4.
Now, with all of that said, I expect the Panthers a whole to play significantly better in Game 5. Edmonton played exceptionally well in Game 4, but Florida was also far from their best. Expect much better efforts from them moving forward, and the Oilers must be prepared.
It goes without saying, but the margin for error at this point for Edmonton is razor-thin, as they need a perfect 3-0 record to win the remainder of the series. Florida is the best team in the league at capitalizing off opposition turnovers, and the Panthers will make Edmonton pay if they make critical mistakes. 
Smart and effective puck management will be crucial, not only in terms of generating rush chances against Bobrovsky but also defensively, as Florida’s primary method of generating offence is through forcing turnovers. Stuart Skinner must also play at his best, as Florida will be even better offensively moving forward.
Game 5 is at 6:00 PM MT on Tuesday. Let’s hope the Oilers defy all odds and make history.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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