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Edmonton Oilers on the brink of a Stanley Cup win after improbable comeback

Florida Panthers' Aaron Ekblad (5) chases Edmonton Oilers' Zach Hyman (18) on the breakaway during second period Game 6 action of the NHL Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton, Friday, June 21, 2024. A win away from rewriting some NHL history, the Oilers headed to Florida on Saturday for Monday's Game 7 that seemed improbable a week earlier.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON - A storybook Stanley Cup win is there for the Edmonton Oilers.

A win away from rewriting some NHL history, the Oilers headed to Florida on Saturday for Monday's Game 7 that seemed improbable a week earlier.

No team in the NHL's expansion era has trailed 3-0 in the Stanley Cup final and come back to win the best-of-seven championship.

Only the 1942 Maple Leafs did it 82 years ago. Only four teams in NHL history have trailed a best-of-seven playoff series 3-0 and won it: Toronto (1942), New York Islanders (1975), Philadelphia Flyers (2010) and Los Angeles Kings (2014).

The first Canadian NHL team to win a Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and Edmonton earning its first Cup in 34 years are among several subplots heading into Monday at Amerant Bank Arena.

The contract clock ticking on Edmonton winning a Cup with the dynamic duo of captain Connor McDavid and centre Leon Draisaitl on the roster is another. Draisaitl has a year remaining on his contract and McDavid two.

The Stanley Cup final will be decided in a seventh game for the 18th time, and the first since the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins in 2019.

While the Oilers have avoided elimination three straight games to go 5-0 in such games this post-season, the Panthers get a fourth and final swing at winning the Cup after falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in last year's final.

Florida has lost three straight heading into the decider on home ice, including a 5-1 decision in Edmonton in Friday's Game 6, but Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch would not claim the upper hand in his team having fewer nerves or jitters because of that.

"I don't know what goes on in Florida, I don't know how they handle things, so I don't think it's fair for me to comment on where they sit," he said Saturday.

"My experience with my team, how we've handled elimination games, we've been through some difficult times. We had two elimination games against Vancouver and I have a lot of confidence in our team on how they responded and played in those games.

"When we got into the situation to be down three zero against Florida in this series, I saw a very confident group where there's no panic, no desperation, just a very focused mentality.

"I liked our team where they were when it was down three zero and I definitely like where they are now."

Scoring first in a game is desirable any time. That's been magnified in Edmonton's three straight wins in which they've scored first — including two short-handed — to get the jump on the Panthers.

Repeating that Monday can pack a devastating punch. The team that scores first is 12-5 all-time in the 17 Stanley Cup finals that went to a Game 7.

"When you score first, one, it calms a lot of jitters," Knoblauch said. "It also forces the opposition to open things up a little bit more and maybe not play with as much defensive structure as they would like just because they're trying to get back in the game and forcing to score that next goal, so it kind of alleviates a little bit of pressure on your team."

While McDavid was the catalyst for Edmonton's wins in Game 4 and 5 with back-to-back four-point games, the Oilers won Game 6 without their captain on the scoresheet.

It was Warren Foegele, on a deft saucer pass from Draisaitl in the first period, and Adam Henrique who gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead and the upper hand less than a minute into the second period.

The Oilers have killed off 46 of 47 penalties since giving up two power-play goals in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on May 12.

"Us being able to win the faceoff on the first draw and be able to get it out is a big help, just because we're doing a really good job on our forecheck," Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner said after the Oilers held the Panthers scoreless on three chances in Game 6.

"We're keeping guys on the outside and neutral zone and when they do get their chances, we get big blocks.

"We've just got a really good flow going right now and we've gotten a lot of opportunities on the PK, so for us to have that sort of chemistry has been great and we've got to do that for another game."

Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko is the only player on either roster with previous Game 7 experience in a Cup final. He had an assist for St. Louis in that 2019 game.

The 32-year-old Russian brings plenty of series-finale experience with five career seventh playoff games and a 4-1 record in them.

"Going into Game 7, both teams are going to be very desperate, hardworking, but sometimes when you are more desperate and you work harder, sometimes there's more mistakes," Knoblauch said.

"Going into Game 7, I can't really expect what kind of game it's going to be. I just know that our players are going to be excited for it, loving the challenge. They've been enjoying this, the whole process."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2024.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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