Panthers make power-play change and center returns before Game 6 in hopes of sorting out problems

EDMONTON, Alberta — Here’s a low-bar of expectation for the Florida Panthers’ power play: Score more than the other team.

Entering Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night, Edmonton has outscored the Panthers, 2-1, when the Panthers have the power play.

The Oilers have scored the first goal when short-handed the previous two games. That adds to their league-leading five short-handed goals allowed these playoffs in 22 games entering Friday night. Dallas is second in allowing two such goals. Edmonton, in 23 games, hasn’t allowed a short-handed goal.

There is a lineup consequence after defenseman Brandon Montour’s pass was intercepted by Edmonton’s Connor Brown in Tuesday’s Game 5 and taken for a breakaway goal to open the scoring.

Veteran Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who scored a third-period goal, appears to have replaced Montour in the first defense pairing with Gustav Forsling.

The other goal is to score more, as the Panthers have one power-play goal in 16 attempts this series (Edmonton has three goals on 21 chances).

“I think simplify it a little bit,’’ Ekman-Larsson, 32, said of any necessary changes for the power play. “Obviously I don’t want to sit here and give everything away. But, yeah, simplify it and just try to have fun with it.”

Ekman-Larsson has played 10 seasons in the NHL, but this past season with the Panthers ended a turbulent time. His eight-year, $66 million contract was bought out by Vancouver after two seasons. The Panthers signed him on a one-year, $2.25-minimum deal for help, since defensemen Montour and Aaron Ekblad were rehabilitating injuries from the previous season.
“He’s not 38, but he’s not 22 either,’’ Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s a veteran guy and there’s a bunch of guys like that in the room … Again, he’s not 22. This is a joy for him. Like this is the thing that he couldn’t have really dreamed about happening from a year ago to be where he is now.”

Cousins is back

The other expected lineup change is on the fourth line, where Nick Cousins returns to the lineup in place of Kyle Okposo. The simple read-through there is Okposo has taken a penalty each of the last two games.
Cousins hasn’t played this series, but is now linked with Kevin Stenlund and Ryan Lomberg on the line that played most of the regular season together. Lomberg returned to the lineup for the first time in Game 5 and had an impactful game, Maurice said.
“There’s a chemistry of Lomberg, Stenlund and Cousins, because they played together this year, and we found that the players that come out and come in, they never come in afraid to make a mistake,’’ Maurice said. “They just sat out, didn’t like it — it’s not a negative emotion, they want to be a part of it so bad that I find it like that.”
Pressure? Maurice said he thought the pressure to win was “level – or leveling,” after Edmonton won the previous two games to make the series 3-2.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling to get to this spot,’’ Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “I think everybody is excited. This is what we live for and what I’ve worked for all my life to be in this position. To be able to close it out or just have fun with it, I think that’s what we want to do.”