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Oilers stars McDavid, Draisaitl played through injuries in playoffs: coach

Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18), defenceman Darnell Nurse (25) and forward Dylan Holloway (55) react after losing to the Florida Panthers in game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup finals in Sunrise, Fla., on Monday, June 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Original Publication Date June 26, 2024 - 3:01 AM

EDMONTON - The sting of losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final lingered for the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.

While the deep playoff run capped a roller-coaster season for the team, the Oilers ultimately fell short of their goal when they were beaten 2-1 by the Florida Panthers on Monday, said centre Leon Draisaitl.

"It’s obviously disappointing, it’s frustrating," he said. "There’s only one team that can win, unfortunately. But I’m very proud of what we’ve been through this year.”

Getting over the loss will take time, added fellow Oilers Connor McDavid, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.

“There were lots of happy moments throughout these playoffs, for sure," he said. "A lot of great moments that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Both Draisaitl and McDavid were hampered by more than bumps and bruises during the post-season, Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch revealed Wednesday.

He declined to comment on McDavid's undisclosed injury, saying he didn't have much information on the ailment. Evander Kane also played hurt, the coach said.

"Leon battled things throughout the playoffs — ribs, hands throughout the playoffs," Knoblauch said. "At certain times it was worse than others. There were games we weren’t sure he was going to play. But he fought through it and played very well in those games.

"And then Evander with the sports hernia, something that’s been bothering him throughout the season. And it got to the point where it just limited his game. And unfortunately, we missed him.”

Expectations for the Oilers were high heading into the campaign, but the team sputtered out of the gate and got off to a dismal 3-9-1 record.

The team fired head coach Jay Woodcroft in November and installed Knoblauch in his place. Soon after, the Oilers went on a 16-game win streak, flirting with an NHL record in the process.

“It was going to turn around no matter what. We had too good of players in that room to not score more goals and win more games," said forward Mattias Janmark. "But I think, also, to become the team that we thought we were and that we needed to be, we needed to start doing things a little bit better, too.”

Edmonton finished the regular season with a 49-27-6, good for second in the Pacific Division.

Several players hit major milestones, including McDavid, who contributed 100 assists, and winger Zach Hyman, who scored 54 goals.

McDavid led the playoffs with eight goals and 34 assists. The post-season's top four scorers were all Oilers — including Draisaitl, Hyman and defenceman Evan Bouchard.

“You often get defined on winning and winning that last game," Knoblauch said. "We were so close to winning it. I think there were so many positives throughout the season that we should be happy about."

One player who faced adversity throughout the campaign was Connor Brown. The 30-year-old forward signed a one-year deal with the Oilers in free agency last summer but struggled to get back to full health after knee surgery.

After putting up just four goals and eight assists in 71 regular-season appearances, Brown registered two goals and four assists in 19 playoff games.

“I plan on being that version of myself that the city got to see down the stretch right from the get-go," he said.

As a pending unrestricted free agent, Brown's future is unclear. But the Toronto native said he's hoping to sign with the Oilers once again.

“This is where I want to be. My heart’s here," he said. "It’s a really special place to play.”

Brown is one of 10 unrestricted free agents on Edmonton's roster, while the Oilers also have decisions to make on a pair of restricted free agents.

The club will also be able to sign extensions with some high-profile players starting Monday, including Draisaitl. But the German star said he hasn't thought extensively about his future.

"I’m obviously going to sit down with my agent here, talk to the Oilers, see what their plan is, see what my plan is and go from there," he said.

“I love being an Oiler more than anything.”

For now, Draisaitl and his teammates are simply taking time to process the highs and lows of their season.

The Oilers may not have won the Stanley Cup, but the team now believes they can get there, McDavid said.

"We’ve sat up here before and told you how bad we want to win and, looking back, we were miles away from it. And now we’re one shot away from it," the captain said. "The belief has never been higher, not only within (Draisaitl and I), but within that room, within everybody.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2024.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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