What to watch for in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

    The Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers kicks off on Saturday. Here are five things to watch for in Game 1.

    Which team wins Game 1 is pivotal 

    It may seem obvious, but a winning performance in Game 1 usually leads to good things. According to Hockey Reference, teams who take the first game of a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs win the series 68 percent of the time.

    The Oilers and Panthers are both 2-1 in Game 1s this postseason, so something will have to give on Saturday.

    Oilers star will be hard to slow down

    Entering the Stanley Cup Final, only Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky (1.84) and Mario Lemieux (1.61) have averaged more points per game in the playoffs all-time than Connor McDavid (1.58) and Leon Draisaitl (1.57). Unsurprisingly, both have been productive in Game 1s this postseason, combining for 13 points (three goals, 10 assists).

    Meanwhile, Zach Hyman, who leads the postseason in goals (14), has been especially dangerous in openers, recording nearly half his postseason total (six) in Game 1s.

    Will Aleksander Barkov and the Panthers’ defensive philosophy be able to tame the Oilers?  

    Panthers head coach Paul Maurice had a hilarious response regarding whether captain and two-way standout Aleksander Barkov could stop “everyone” on the Oilers. But the simple fact is, even after silencing several of the league’s top scorers, the two-time Selke Trophy winner will need some help to slow down the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman.

    So far, the league’s stingiest defensive unit has thrived in the postseason. But the Oilers will be an entirely different beast to tackle, and Game 1 should show whether they’re capable of doing so. 

    Oilers may have a special teams edge

    The Panthers have the second-best penalty-killing unit in the postseason (88.24 percent) but a modest power play that has scored on only 14 of 60 attempts (23.33 percent).

    Meanwhile, the Oilers own the best power-play percentage (37.25 percent) and penalty-killing percentage (93.88) during the postseason. Likewise, Edmonton’s special teams have made a difference in Game 1s, going 4-of-6 on the power play while holding opponents scoreless (0-of-9) on the man advantage. 

    Sergei Bobrovsky could set the tone

    Bobrovsky holds a clear advantage over his counterpart when it comes to experience. And that could be valuable as the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has been here before, and the Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner, playing in the playoffs for only the second time in his career, has not.

    During the playoffs, Skinner has been up and down, winning 11 of 16 games with a .897 save percentage. Meanwhile, the veteran Bobrovsky might be hitting his stride, having allowed more than two goals only once over the last 11 playoff games, recording an 8-3 record with a .921 save percentage over that time. 

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