Edmonton Oilers push Stanley Cup final to Game 7

Come all the way back from 3-0 deficit in series to play Panthers for championship on Monday in Florida

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Get back in the box, Stanley, you’re flying back to Florida.

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Some 82 years after the NHL said ‘We’re never going to see anything like this again,’ the Edmonton Oilers are sixty minutes away from re-writing hockey history.

A season defined by logic-bending recoveries and unshakable belief is about to reach its final crescendo, with The Team That Wouldn’t Die climbing out of one last hole to set up one last game for the Stanley Cup.

The impossible is now a coin toss.

The miracle is three-quarters complete.

“It’s been a hell of a story so far, but at the end of the day we play to win,” said forward Leon Draisaitl, after the Oilers and their fans brought the roof down on the Florida Panthers Friday, running away with Game 6 and forcing a seventh and deciding game in a series that was supposed to be over 10 days ago.

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“I’m just really proud of the way we gave ourselves a chance. This is going to be the hardest game of the series, we know that, but we’re really, really proud that we gave ourselves a chance.”

Anyone (meaning everyone) who left Edmonton’s body for the worms after they lost the first three games to Florida is as stunned as the Panthers are that this thing isn’t over yet.

Oilers Panthers Hyman
Edmonton Oilers Zach Hyman (18) scores on Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) during second period game 6 action of the NHL Stanley Cup final on Friday, June 21, 2024 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia Photo by Greg Southam /Greg Southam

Over? The Oilers climbed out of 31st place this season, they don’t know what “over” means.

But, in a 5-1 victory to set up the most improbable Game 7 since 1942, they made Florida know one true thing — you back Edmonton into a corner at your own peril.

The Oilers staved off elimination for the third game in a row and fifth time in these playoffs, controlling Florida from start to finish in yet another convincing win. In Games 4-5-6-7 seven in the playoffs this year, the Oilers are 11-2. When the money is on the table, they find a gear that nobody has been able to match.

Not Los Angeles, not Vancouver, not Dallas and not Florida. Not yet, anyway.

“We’ve taken the hardest rout but it’s been a lot of fun,” said 13-year-veteran Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “You’re in the Stanley Cup Final, you have a chance.

“It shows the kind of group we have in here. You have to believe in each other and you have to have a ton of character. We have an amazing opportunity here and we’re going to put our best foot forward on Monday.”

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The Oilers beat Florida 8-1 in Game 4, jumped out to a 4-1 lead in Game 5 and ran away with Game 6. In all, they’ve outscored Florida 20-5 over the last 11 periods. Suddenly it’s starting to look less and less like a miracle and more and more like the better team in this series is starting to pull away.

But, when it’s 60 minutes for a Stanley Cup, everybody starts from scratch.

“It doesn’t matter how you get there, Game 7s always have their own life,” said Mattias Janmark, who is putting his own very important stamp on this incredible story. “The start of the game will be big. You want to keep that momentum but we can’t count on it, we have to create it for ourselves next game.

“We’ve worked so hard to pull our way back in the series and now we have the hardest game to win. We have to re-set and get ready for that game. But if you told us one week ago that we would be in this position, we’d take it.”

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The crowd at Rogers Place did its part, living up to its reputation as the loudest in the game. They hit 114 decibels when Edmonton skated out of the tunnel, nailed both anthems and shook the building all night long.

When Warren Foegele made it 1-0, when Adam Henrique made it 2-0, when Aleksander Barkov’s goal got taken off the board for being offside and when Zach Hyman’s breakaway goal made it 3-0 at the second intermission, the noise somehow found another level.

And when Ryan McLeod and Darnell Nurse scored empty netters to guarantee the win, forget about it. It was as joyous and jubilant as you can get without actually wining actually winning a Stanley Cup, mostly because every single person in that building believes the Oilers are winning the Stanley Cup on Monday.

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“It means the world to us,” Draisaitl said of the atmosphere. “I’ve been here for a long time, been through some pretty bad years, and the people who were there tonight, they showed up every night, still showed up at games and supported us. To give them that is really special. Hopefully we can finish the job for them.”

And now you really have to wonder what the Panthers are thinking after falling flat for the third straight time.

When the game was on the line Friday, Florida had five shots on goal through 30 minutes, That doesn’t look like a team that’s ready to impose its will on a series, it’s more like a team that had its shot and missed.

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