Edmonton Oilers run at Stanley Cup history dies with Game 7 defeat

After twice rising from the dead this year, the Oilers let history slip through their outstretched fingers Monday in a heartbreaking 2-1 Game 7 defeat

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It’s all over.

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A season defined by stunning comebacks, unbreakable resilience and unshakable belief ends with the Edmonton Oilers digging one last hole that they couldn’t escape.

They got their fingers over the edge and almost pulled themselves out, but the Florida Panthers stomped their hands and sealed their fate, handing them a crushing 2-1 Game 7 defeat Monday in Sunrise.

After twice rising from the dead this year — from 31st place in the standings and from 3-0 down in the Stanley Cup Final — the Oilers let history slip through their outstretched fingers.

“Obviously it wasn’t meant to be,” said Leon Draisaitl, his face showing the emotion after the most painful loss of his career. “I don’t know what to say right now. It’s heartbreaking. We were right there. We battled all the way to the end.

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“We were one period, maybe one shot, away from winning the thing and now you have to go through 82 regular season games again.”

It would have been the most incredible National Hockey League triumph of all time. Instead, while Matthew Tkachuk and the Panthers celebrated at centre ice, the Oilers and everyone in Edmonton struggled to process the result.

Oilers Panthers Skinner
SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 24: Sam Reinhart #13 of the Florida Panthers shoots against Stuart Skinner #74 of the Edmonton Oilers during the third period of Game Seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 24, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

“It’s tough to string four (wins) in a row against a good team like that, but we were right there,”
said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, the first player since Jean-Sébastien Giguère in 2003 to win the Conn Smythe trophy in a losing cause.

“It sucks. I’m proud of the way we fought all year. We were behind the 8-ball almost immediately and fought an uphill climb for months. We went through a lot, ups and downs, and came that close.”

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They were all certain this journey would end another way after the Oilers seemed to pull away in the series, winning 8-1, 5-3 and 5-1 in Games 4, 5 and 6.

But Game 7 on the road against a team desperate to avoid one of the biggest collapses in sports history was the bridge too far. The Panthers drew one last line in the Florida sand and refused to budge.

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Florida scored first, lead 2-1 at the second intermission and kept the frantic Oilers at bay for the final 20 minutes.

So Edmonton’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final ends without a trophy, just a silver lining (that is of absolutely no consolation right now), that this was a hell of a season and a hell of a run.

Oilers McDavid
Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates past Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Florida Panthers during the third period of Game Seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 24, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Elsa /Getty Images

McDavid had the most points by a forward since Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Evan Bouchard had the most points by a defenceman since Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch. Hyman had the most goals by any active player in the league.

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They had best penalty killing in the playoffs, the best power play in the playoffs and their toughness and resilience got them one game away from being etched in Stanley Cup lore forever.

When a team loses 10 of its first 12 games and sinks to the bottom of the standings, it’s not supposed to be sitting there in January wondering what all the fuss was about.

When it falls behind 3-2 to Vancouver, 2-1 to Dallas and 3-0 to Florida, it’s not supposed to march its way a Game 7.

But those were the Oilers.

“It’s an amazing group of guys,” said Draisaitl. “It’s hard to put into words how much character there is in this room. We stuck with it all year.”

Before Monday night, they faced elimination five times and went 5-0. They had the other team facing elimination three times and went 3-0.

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But on the one night they needed, they found themselves on the wrong side of the razor’s edge.

“You can analyze it to death if you want to, when somebody beats you in a seven game series they’re the better team,” said defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “Good for them. But we were darn close and we’ll be back next year.”

There is a lot they’ll be able to look back on and be extremely proud of, but for every player in Edmonton’s room who never wins a Stanley Cup, and it might be all of them, for all we know, the sense of loss will never go away.

This was the most successful season in the McDavid-Draisaitl era and it hurts the worst. More than missing the playoffs, more than being knocked out in the first, second or third round.

To battle so hard for two months and have everything they’ve dreamed of in this game since they were eight years old held in front of them and then yanked away the final day of the season is tough. Especially given the road they took to get here.

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And what happens next year is anyone’s guess.

Is this the last and final growing pain before the Oilers get to where Florida is? It’s an easy narrative, but nothing is guaranteed in hockey. It might be a long time before they ever get this close again.

Nobody knows that better than the Oilers.

E-mail: [email protected]

Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers
SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 24: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers lifts the Stanley Cup after Florida’s 2-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in Game Seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on June 24, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Joel Auerbach /Getty Images

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