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'Unshakable' Oilers keep rolling, force Game 7

Written by 
Published in Breaking News
Friday, 21 June 2024 22:03

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid was held without a point, so Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers' other top players stepped up to put them one win from the Stanley Cup.

Draisaitl made his first major impact in the Final by setting up Warren Foegele's early goal, Adam Henrique and Zach Hyman scored in the second period and the Oilers forced a Game 7 by beating the Florida Panthers 5-1 in Game 6 on Friday night.

"At the end of the day, we play to win and this is going to be the hardest game for us," Draisaitl said. "We have to bring our game again."

They are the third team to tie the final after falling behind 3-0 in the series, and the first since the Detroit Red Wings in 1945. The Oilers have the chance Monday night in Sunrise, Florida, to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as the only NHL teams to come all the way back from that deficit to hoist the Stanley Cup.

"There was an unshakable belief," Hyman said. "No matter what happened throughout the year, we always believed we could pull through. No matter how dire the circumstances, we think we have a chance. It was a long season facing adversity which prepared us. The next one will be the hardest. It feels unbelievable to do it in front of this crowd. To have a chance to win now, this is our first opportunity to win."

After falling into a 3-0 series hole, the Oilers have rallied by scoring five-plus goals in three straight games, the longest streak in a Stanley Cup Final since the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The opportunity to make hockey history and end Canada's three-decade-long Cup drought exists only after McDavid's heroics with four points apiece in Games 4 and 5 to take the Oilers from the brink to belief. This was the first time in his nine-year career they've won a game in which he did not have a point or put a shot on net.

Draisaitl, his longtime running mate from Germany who has also been league MVP and considered among the best players in the world, lit the spark in Game 5 after being largely ineffective against the Panthers.

"He's a horse," defenseman Darnell Nurse said. "He's always showing up at the biggest moments. You look at all his playoff performances, he's one of the best to ever do it."

Draisaitl got the puck at center ice, skated around and through Florida defenders and put the puck on the tape of Foegele's stick for a tap-in that Sergei Bobrovsky had nearly no chance of stopping. That, of course, did not stop the fired up sellout crowd of 18,000-plus from mockingly chanting, "Ser-gei! Ser-gei!"

The goalie everyone calls "Bob" was hardly to blame, though, with mistakes in front of him also contributing to the 2-on-1 rush that ended with Henrique beating Bobrovsky off a 2-on-1 rush off a perfect pass from Mattias Janmark. The Panthers in front of their goaltender looked tight and timid and unlike the juggernaut that reached the final for a second consecutive year and won the first three games to move to the verge of the first title in franchise history.

"We have one game to go," Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. "We were ready right from the start to play a seven-game series, and nothing changes now. We got up three, and they played three good games. Now it's up to us to win at home."

Florida had just six shots on net midway through the game and finished with 21. Continuing a trend of being there when the Oilers need him the most, goaltender Stuart Skinner made timely saves to stymie the Panthers, allowing just a goal to Aleksander Barkov less than 90 seconds into the third period.

"He's been lights-out when we've needed him," Janmark said of Skinner.

The first time Barkov got the puck past him, 10 seconds after Henrique scored, the goal came off the board when Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch successfully challenged for offside. A lengthy review found Sam Reinhart entered the offensive zone perhaps an inch or less before the puck, the announcement of which was followed by a roar from fans.

"I actually didn't think it was that close," Knoblauch said. "In my mind, it was definitely offside."

That was not the loudest Rogers Place got, and there were plenty of candidates for that distinction. The decibel meter shown on video screens reached 113.8 when the Oilers stepped on to the ice to the tune of Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

It might have approached that noise level when Ryan McLeod and Nurse scored empty-netters in the final minutes, setting off chants of "We want the Cup!" "We want the Cup!" and a wild celebration at the viewing party outside.

That was the fever pitch of a city that was awash in a sea of blue and orange downtown in the hours before puck drop. Friday might as well have been a holiday in Edmonton, the home of nearly a million people now fully able to let themselves dream of the Oilers adding another white championship banner to the rafters -- and do so in the most improbable way possible.

"We're just excited to keep our season going," McDavid said. "That's what it's been about. One game at a time, one day at a time. Looking forward to the next one."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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