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Bring on Game 7! Grades, lessons and more from a wild Oilers win

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Friday, 21 June 2024 21:54

The Stanley Cup was in the building again, ready to be awarded to the Florida Panthers if they won Game 6.

They did not.

The Edmonton Oilers scored the first three goals of the game en route to another dominant win, this one 5-1. In the process, they became just the third team in NHL history to come back from down 0-3 in the Stanley Cup Final to tie it 3-3. The 1945 Detroit Red Wings came back but lost in Game 7, while the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the reverse sweep.

We break it down. 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 7 on Monday (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Panthers grade: C-

The Panthers have no one to blame but themselves. They lost three straight games just twice in the regular season and are on the brink of letting a Stanley Cup slip away. Florida should have had a parade by now. Instead, it is returning with Edmonton back to the Sunshine State to see if there's anything left in the tank to finally finish off an extremely worthy opponent.

The Panthers have been listless out of the gate since Game 3, allowing the Oilers to take leads they don't relinquish. Florida's previous commitment to all-around defensive play is rapidly evaporating and leaves Sergei Bobrovsky vulnerable. Florida's special teams haven't been clicking, either. The Panthers stars are (mostly) nonexistent, and all the yelling from coach Paul Maurice can't shake anything loose to help Florida get over the hump.

Now, the Panthers in a do-or-die position. And it feels like Edmonton is in far better shape to handle Game 7 better than Florida.


Oilers grade: A

The Oilers have acted as a collective, taking away time and space as a five-man unit. That dedication resulted in just two shots on goals for the Panthers in the first period, and the five goals came from players not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl (though the latter had a superb assist on the game's opening goal). Edmonton previously showed it could survive in tight situations and exhibited bounce-back ability in the Western Conference finals. It has gone from allowing eight goals in Games 2 and 3 in the Finals to just five goals over the past three games.

These have all been flash points that added to the belief that the Oilers might be the most complete team in the NHL.

Those traits weren't as visible to open the series, but they were in Game 6. And while there were times when the Panthers pushed back, if the Oilers replicate their Game 6 performance in Game 7 it could see them go from free fall to start the season to raising the Cup for the first time since 1990.


What we learned in Game 6

Florida's absent stars are an issue

Listen, when the Panthers had just two shots at even strength from forwards through the first two periods of Game 6, it was clear why they were trailing 3-0. At that point, Edmonton had scored 17 of the past 21 goals in the Cup Final, and it kept making Florida look average.

Where were Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe and Aleksander Barkov to lift the Panthers out of this rut? Granted, Barkov's second-period goal was called back for Reinhart being offside -- and he lit the lamp again for Florida's only goal in the third period -- but Florida's captain cannot carry the load alone.

play
0:45
Aleksander Barkov cuts into Panthers' deficit with slick wrister

Aleksander Barkov weaves through traffic around the net and sneaks a quick shot past Stuart Skinner to get the Panthers within two scores.

The Panthers' special teams are atrocious

It's not just that Florida can't score on special teams. Its power play can hardly generate a shot. Florida is 0-for-11 on the power play through its past three games, and during a critical third-period opportunity in Game 6, didn't put up a single shot on Stuart Skinner.

Meanwhile, the Oilers were buzzing on their chances, and making it difficult for Florida with the man advantage. Edmonton breathed life back into themselves through special teams opportunities in Games 4 and 5; the Panthers' failure to match has been a massive downfall of theirs. A series like this can be lost on special teams alone, and that's the direction Florida is trending.

It wasn't just one thing -- it was several for the Oilers

It started with Kris Knoblauch's decision to move Warren Foegele to the second line as a way to help generate some offensive consistency for Leon Draisaitl. That decision led to Draisaitl setting up Foegele for the game's opening goal. The Oilers also have the sort of structure that's allowed them to find rush goals, including three of them in sequence.

Later, there was the successful coach's challenge of Barkov's goal that was a major momentum swing. And as it's been stated several times during the playoffs, they won games without needing goals from Draisaitl or McDavid. For years, the concern surrounding the Oilers was whether or not they had enough options beyond those two. But as they showed in Game 6, they had several options that proved to be too much for the Panthers.

play
1:05
Panthers coach Paul Maurice livid after goal overturned

Panthers coach Paul Maurice lets the officials hear it after Florida's quick score was overturned against the Oilers.

The Oilers keep placing opposing star players in a defensive black hole

Even though Barkov scored, the struggles he and Matthew Tkachuk have had are part of a larger narrative about how star players are struggling against the Oilers this postseason.

The Oilers held Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, who has more than 1,200 career points, without a point over four games. Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller had 103 points in the regular season, and was held without a point in three of seven games in the second round. While Jason Robertson scored a hat trick in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, the Oilers kept him without a point for the last three games of the series, and four games in total.

Entering Game 6, both Barkov and Tkachuk each had three Cup final games that saw them fail to record a point. The Oilers are forcing the Panthers' depth options to beat them -- and it's been an effective strategy for the past three games.


Players to watch in Game 7

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Panthers

What McDavid has been to Edmonton, so Bobrovsky has been to Florida. And ultimately, whether the Panthers succeed or fail at winning the Cup will hinge on him.

Why? Because to this point in elimination games, Florida simply has not produced a dominant skater capable of taking over and single-handedly securing a victory. The only player the Panthers can rely on to do that -- in a crunch-time situation -- is Bobrovsky. He's been their most consistent performer in the postseason, and the Panthers have been right to invest as much faith as they have in him being a difference maker. That will never be more pronounced or critical than in Game 7.

Leon Draisaitl, C, Oilers

Draisaitl made it clear after morning skate Friday he wasn't happy with the way he was playing, and that he hadn't found his game as of yet. His assist that gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead saw him get off to the quick start that's proven elusive at times.

Although he has yet to score a goal, he still finished with three shots, while also drawing the penalty in the third period that slowed the Panthers for two more minutes. Draisaitl has had four games during the Cup Final in which he's finished with three shots. Could Game 7 provide him with the sort of breakthrough that would see him score his first goal since Game 4 of the Western Conference finals?


Big questions for Game 7

Are the Panthers championship material?

Nitpick any part of the Panthers game to date. It doesn't matter at this stage. All that stands between Florida and closing out a series that could have been finalized a week ago is their ability to prove that the 16th win is in within their grasp -- that the Panthers themselves are made to be champions.

Florida has failed in three straight opportunities to send Edmonton packing. That lack of killer instinct goes against everything Florida showed until this point in the postseason. Now it will be harder than ever to get the job done -- because Edmonton has all the momentum and every reason to believe they're on track to finish the job. Can the Panthers notch just one last victory to prove the last two months were no fluke?

Where would an Oilers Game 7 win rank among all-time comebacks?

Let's say for the sake of discussion, they do win the Stanley Cup. Could it be the greatest comeback in NHL history, and potentially the greatest comeback in the history of North American professional sports?

There's the famed 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs who remain the only team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup after a 3-0 deficit. Beyond that, the closest another team has come in either Major League Baseball or NBA playoffs series was in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox rallied from a three-game hole to beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

And while the NFL has a single-elimination format, the New England Patriots pulled off the largest comeback in Super Bowl history when they overcame a 28-3 hole in the third quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

If Edmonton does pull it off, this comeback will certainly have a strong case in that all-time debate.

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