Pressure? Panthers know they've made mistakes but still lead Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final


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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida coach Paul Maurice sat behind a microphone again on Wednesday, giving his daily news conference even though basically nothing new had happened in the 13 hours between then and the last time he spoke to reporters.

He took a bunch of questions. He also had one to ask.

"How can I be the only person in a decent mood here today?" Maurice asked, sort of rhetorically, sort of seriously.

Yes, the Panthers have lost their last two games and gotten embarrassed in one of them. Yes, they've wasted two chances to win the Stanley Cup. Yes, a 3-0 lead in the title series against the Edmonton Oilers is down to 3-2, after the Panthers lost Game 5 on home ice 5-3 on Tuesday night. Yes, Game 6 is in Edmonton on Friday night and, yes, Oilers star Connor McDavid just had back-to-back games the likes of which have never been seen in the Cup final before.

No, that doesn't mean the Panthers are worried about wilting under pressure.

"You're going to think I'm lying to you," Maurice said. "I'm more comfortable. I understand the feeling of 3-2 because most series are like that; 3-0 is more of an aberration, isn't it? Pressure. I think we think about these things possibly differently and I'm not sure I would agree with the assessment that the pressure has shifted so heavily to us."

Forget the on-ice matters for a moment. Just about every historical stat that Maurice can show his team before it boards another flight to Edmonton on Thursday says the trends over time show that Florida should be liking its chances:

— The Panthers won Game 1. Game 1 winners win the Cup 76% of the time.

— They led the series 2-0. Teams in that situation win the Cup at a 91% rate.

— They led the series 3-0. The Cup rate there: 96%.

— They led 3-1. Cup rate in that situation: 97%.

— They lead 3-2. Cup rate in that situation: 81%. After getting outscored 13-1 from late in Game 3 to basically midway through Game 5, after losing 8-1 in their last trip to Edmonton and falling at home on Tuesday night, the Panthers still lead the series. Nobody, if offered the chance to be in this spot on the first day of camp back in the fall, would have declined.

"It's still 3-2," Maurice said.

Sure, Edmonton has done what it must do. It has fended off elimination twice. It has sent the series back to Alberta and will have a chance in front of its own rowdy, delirious, Cup-starved fans to try to force the ultimate — a Game 7 — in Florida that would be played Monday night. The Panthers are tipping their caps, yet they still believe they can make the change they need to finish this thing off.

"I think we were gripping the sticks a little tight," Panthers forward Sam Bennett acknowledged after Game 5. "We wanted it a little too bad tonight. ... We've just got to win one game. It's as simple as that."

There are most certainly things for the Panthers to clean up. Nobody was pleased with how, on the heels of losing 8-1, they got into a 3-0 hole to start things in Game 5. They have been outscored on their own power plays 2-1, which is inexcusable on a number of levels.

There's also things to like. That's what Maurice is preaching now, with only one or two games left in the season.

"Our 5-on-5 game was as good last night as it's been all series," Maurice said. "That gets you out of bed and gets you ready for Game 6."

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

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