Panthers-Oilers Game 5 takeaways, early look at Game 6

Connor McDavid, Oilers force Game 6 in Edmonton after 5-3 win (3:03)

Connor McDavid's two-goal performance helps fuel the Oilers to a Game 5 win and send the series back home to Edmonton. (3:03)

With the Stanley Cup in the building for a second straight game, the Florida Panthers couldn't quite muster enough in Game 5 to clinch, as the Edmonton Oilers skated away with a 5-3 victory.

The game started mildly enough, with a 1-0 Oilers lead after one frame. Things got wild in the second period, with five goals combined from the two teams. While the Panthers got within one in the third, they couldn't get the equalizer, and Connor McDavid scored an empty-net goal to put the capper on the festivities.

It was a four-point night for McDavid, who continues his climb up the single-playoff points leaderboard. His 42 points in this playoff run are five shy of Wayne Gretzky (1985) for the most all time.

We're here to break it all down for you. Here are our grades for both teams, along with takeaways that stuck out the most, key players to watch and the big questions left unanswered prior to Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Panthers grade: B-

Florida checked in late to Game 5 and ran out of runway to seal the deal on the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship -- again.

The Panthers gave up a shorthanded goal less than six minutes into the first period, and that appeared to deflate the team in a way where it didn't recover until well into the second frame. By then, the Panthers were already trailing by multiple goals, a deficit too difficult to climb out of at the best of times -- let alone when up against a desperate opponent.

Florida did find its legs eventually and looked dangerous for most of the third period, but while the Panthers' depth skaters showed up, not enough of Florida's stars -- Sam Reinhart? Aleksander Barkov? Carter Verhaeghe? -- did the same. Edmonton's elite skaters performed as exactly that Tuesday. The Panthers' best better be prepared to do the same in Game 6.

Oilers grade: B+

Scoring eight goals in Game 4 allowed the Oilers to extend the series. But that was no guarantee they could find cohesion in Game 5; as it turns out, they did.

Once again, the Oilers scored the first goal and built a three-goal lead. Their power play went from searching for answers to searching for more goals. They had moments when their ability to suppress shots was evident, which was the case when the Panthers failed to launch a shot over the final 14 minutes of the first period. Plus, they blocked 26 shots in support of Stuart Skinner.

They also had some challenging moments which saw them enter survival mode. In the second period, they allowed 16 shots and two goals, one of them coming less than 30 seconds after they had pushed the lead to 4-1. That second-period surge kept the Panthers within reach before Oliver Ekman-Larsson's goal just 4:04 into the third made life a bit challenging for the Oilers. In the final frame, Edmonton had only four shots while allowing 11. Nevertheless, they had just enough to pull this one out.

What we learned in Game 5

Florida's special teams are a problem

The Panthers had done a masterful job early in the series of holding off Edmonton's potent power play. But the Oilers have been turning the tide there, and Florida looks increasingly vulnerable in an area that was once a true strength. Edmonton opened the scoring in Game 5 with a nifty shorthanded goal by Connor Brown, and then scored two power-play goals.

Meanwhile, Florida never capitalized on its own chances, going 0-for-3 on the power play. Tightly contested series are rarely won at even strength; Florida must hold Edmonton at bay on special teams too if it expects to come away with a Cup.

Sergei Bobrovsky can't win alone

Florida leaned into its exceptional goaltending throughout the postseason. But Bobrovsky was aided by what was once a stellar defensive commitment from the players in front of him.

That's dwindled over the past two games, and Bobrovsky has looked more exposed as a result. Perhaps it's the jitters associated with trying to close a team out and win a Cup, but Florida's once-impenetrable appearance collapsing on the Oilers in the offensive zone wasn't nearly as apparent in the first half of Game 5, and it cost the Panthers a win.

Florida has to get back to protecting the house and giving Bobrovsky a better chance to do his best work.

That Oilers power-play unit might be fine going forward

Remember that time when the Oilers' power play struggled to find shots, let alone goals, and it led to questions about what was going wrong? A power-play goal in Game 4 was followed by two more with the extra skater advantage in Game 5.

McDavid made the point that the Oilers gradually find answers against opposing penalty kills -- and he has a point. The Oilers went through similar struggles in the beginning of the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Stars, only to score four power-play goals combined in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series.

Zach Hyman doubles Oilers' lead with tip off slap shot

Evan Bouchard fires, but the puck tips off Zach Hyman's stick for the Oilers score in the second period.

We might need to have a conversation about Evan Bouchard

Bouchard's three assists in Game 5 do more than add to his stellar 2024 postseason -- they open up a larger discussion about where he fits within the landscape of the game's top young defensemen.

It's reached a point that having a young, puck-moving top-four option has almost become a necessity to win or at least be in a position to win in today's NHL. Miro Heiskanen's 26 points in 27 playoff games in 2020 helped the Stars reach the Cup Final while bolstering Heiskanen's reputation. The same went for Cale Makar in 2022 when he finished with 29 points in 20 playoff games and helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup.

Bouchard's 32 points through 23 games now have him five points shy of tying Oilers assistant coach Paul Coffey's record of most points by a defensemen in a single postseason. And for anyone who might not have been familiar with Bouchard, this postseason serves as a launching pad for him to be included in that top defenseman discussion.

Players to watch in Game 6

Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Panthers

It took until Game 5, but Tkachuk finally had his best game of the Cup Final on Tuesday. The Panthers' top forward was a force at both ends of the ice, setting up teammates, scoring himself and drawing penalties. Tkachuk hadn't had that sort of all-around impact yet against Edmonton, and it was much needed -- especially if he can channel that energy again in Game 6.

It was little wonder that the stronger Tkachuk became, the better Florida performed down the stretch in Game 5. He should be ready and able to set the tone in Game 6, and his teammates will be prepared to follow that lead from puck drop.

Connor McDavid, C, Oilers

Choosing McDavid as the player to watch ahead of Game 6 is essentially the hockey equivalent of why florals in spring are groundbreaking. But at the same time, how could he not be the choice?

He went from not having one goal through the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final to having a goal and four points just in Game 4. He followed that up in Game 5 by scoring two goals and two assists. He is now the favorite to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, according to ESPN BET.

While it's the sort of production that comes with the mantle of being the best player in hockey, let's take a breath and remember that McDavid is doing this during a Cup Final that has seen his team go from being swept to forcing a Game 6.

Connor McDavid plays hero for Oilers with 4-point performance

Connor McDavid leads the Oilers back to Edmonton with a two-goal, two-assist night in Game 5.

Big questions for Game 6

Can the Panthers put this series away?

It's one thing to close out an opponent in the first or second round of a playoff series. It's another thing entirely for Florida to close the book on Edmonton and claim the Cup.

The Panthers have allowed their opponent to dictate too much early on in the past two games, and it has put them in a position to play catch up. The Panthers have now failed to clinch at home or away, and Edmonton had every reason to believe it can complete the most improbably of comebacks in this series.

It's time for Florida to show its mettle by putting a dagger in the Oilers before this Cup Final reaches a Game 7 situation that frankly Florida just doesn't want to find itself in -- especially not when McDavid is playing like a human cheat code.

Have the Oilers figured out the Panthers' forecheck, and in turn, Bobrovsky?

Go back to what the Oilers did in the third period of Game 3. Even though they couldn't force overtime, they did get two goals in the final frame, which is as many as they had in the series total before that point. Those goals signaled that the Oilers might have found a breakthrough against the Panthers' forecheck and, potentially, Bobrovsky.

Scoring eight goals in Game 4 reinforced that idea, with the caveat that it was just one game. Scoring a shorthanded goal, a power-play goal and one in 5-on-5 play in Game 5 proved that the Oilers could generate chances in every sequence. McDavid's goal that gave the Oilers a 3-0 lead capped a stretch that saw the Oilers score 12 of the past 13 goals in the series at that time, adding to the belief they may have finally found answers to their biggest problem.