Game 4 Notebook: Oilers maintaining belief despite tough hill to climb

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss the Oilers bringing in some voices into the locker room to spur inspiration for a series comeback and also look at how the Oilers big third period in Game 3 could be a blueprint to defeat the Panthers.

EDMONTON — Corey Perry may have played in four of the past five Stanley Cup Finals, but he also went 12 years between appearances in Round 4.

So whether or not his team is down 3-0, he says there is no reason to leave anything in the dressing room tonight.

“How do you know that there’s going to be another time? That’s the biggest thing you can put in your mind: there might not be another time,” Perry said after Friday’s practice.

“I bet you more than half these guys will never play in the Stanley Cup Final again. It’s just the reality of sports. And that’s where you put that fight in. That’s what you have to go home today and think about.”

Oilers assistant coach Mark Stuart played for that Boston Bruins team in 2010 that frittered away a 3-0 series lead and eventually lost to Philadelphia. He has told that story a few times to some willing ears in the Oilers dressing room over the past 48 hours.

Also, former Chicago Blackhawks great — and current Oilers scout — Duncan Keith made the rounds with his tale from 2011. The Blackhawks trailed Vancouver 3-0 in Rd. 1, then charged back to force overtime in Game 7 before losing on a goal by Alex Burrows.

It’s like the old line about how one eats an elephant, however. You can’t start thinking about Game 7 when you haven’t even chewed on Game 4 yet.

“If you start looking too far ahead, it’s a daunting task,” Perry said. “They’re a great team, we know that. You start with one period, one game, and you work your way from there.”

The key is to believe. These Oilers have dealt with enough adversity of the course of this season to, at least, have that in their favour.

“When you have a good team, a lot of good players who believe, things can happen,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “But a lot of things have to work out. You have to get some bounces, have to make some plays. And you need everybody to contribute. I think we can do that.”

Knoblauch may have broken hockey’s unwritten rule about looking too far into the future, but he did so in the spirit of showing confidence in a team that many have left for dead.

“If there’s a team that can do it, if there’s a group of men I want to do this with, it’s the guys in that room,” he said Saturday. “From what I’ve seen through the season, how resilient they are, their perseverance, their focus, their attitude, I’m really excited for the next 10 days.”

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For the record, the last team to win a Cup after going down 3-0 in the Final was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sabres South

How wild is it that so many former Buffalo Sabres who have been part of that hapless franchise’s 13-year playoff drought have gone on to hoist a Stanley Cup elsewhere?

Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel headline that group.

And now the Florida Panthers have five ex-Sabres — Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, Evan Rodrigues, Kyle Okposo, and Dmitry Kulikov — who could join them with one more W.

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” says Okposo, now in Year 17 of his playoff-light career. “Had a lot of ups and downs, personally and team-wise. But over the last few years, tried to turn Buffalo around and get that organization going the right direction. It was definitely challenging, but extremely rewarding at the same time.

“This year, I wanted to make sure I was going to put myself in a position, no matter what, to play in the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup. I wasn’t going to compromise in that goal. It was a difficult decision for me to do, but I felt like Florida was going to give me the best chance to reach the ultimate goal.”

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Because Okposo, 36, is over 35 years old, he is eligible to negotiate performance bonuses into his contract. The one-year, $2.5-million deal he signed with Buffalo features a $500,000 bonus for winning the Stanley Cup.

Surely, a bill the Panthers won’t mind paying.

“It’s something that’s interesting in our league, that if you don’t have playoff success, a lot of the time, that’s looked as a negative, when so much of this league is timing and the teams that you play on — through no fault of our own as players sometimes,” Okposo says.

“There’s a very specific type of player, I think, and most players in the league are in that category, but sometimes they get labeled as, ‘Oh, we don’t want this guy because they haven’t played in the playoffs.’ Well, there’s so many guys that haven’t played in the playoffs that would be absolute dogs in the playoffs.

“We have a team that has a lot of dogs.”

Pucks to Nets

As a team, the Oilers have been known to overpass a tad.

Even defenceman Evan Bouchard, who fired more 90 mph slappers this season than any other player, doesn’t waste many shots from back there.

But in the third period of Game 3, the Oilers only two-goal frame of this Final, both Oilers goals came off of payers simply firing pucks to the net.

Can Edmonton grasp the simpler game, in an effort to solve the great Sergei Bobrovsky?

“There’s that element of luck,” Knoblauch said. “(Philip) Broberg’s goal — that is luck. We didn’t have anybody in front of the net, we had somebody off to the side, and it went off of (Niko Mikkola). You shoot enough pucks, things will go in.”

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Frankly, that’s Perry’s game. He and Zach Hyman can’t bang in any rebounds if nobody is funnelling any pucks to the net.

“As that third period wore on, we got to the front of the net and we found some puck luck. Not enough, but I think it’s a start,” Perry said.

“Getting in front of Bob. Start going to the net. Hanging around, being there, creating havoc. That might be the one thing we can change.”


When Panthers GM Bill Zito rented late-career Vladimir Tarasenko, who circled Florida as his trade destination of choice, the reviews were mixed.

Yeah, he ripped six 30-goal seasons in his heyday and was instrumental in bringing the long-suffering city of St. Louis its one and only Cup.

But the sniper could be temperamental, his critics argued. He grumbled about not inheriting the Blues’ captaincy. And, since leaving Missouri, he didn’t much help the New York Rangers get out of the first round in 2023 and didn’t turn the Senators into a playoff team this season.

Like so many of these Cats with curious career paths, Tarasenko has adapted and thrived as a third-line winger, chipping in offence and generating positive shifts without a key power-play role.

“He’s been so valuable,” says St. Louis native Matthew Tkachuk. “I watched him a ton growing up. He was one of my favourite players. It’s pretty crazy I’m on the same team with him right now. When it’s all said and done, we’ll be looking back as one of the coolest moments for me, seeing him score a ton of big goals — and [Game 3] was no different.

“I’m sure my 12- or 15-year-old self would be completely starstruck, having this opportunity right now to play with him.”

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We ask Tarasenko if Florida is the best defensive squad he’s ever played on, better than those hard-checking 2019 Blues that stifled Boston in a best-of-seven.

“It’s pretty good,” he replies. “I don’t really want to compare now. It’s not a time to do it.”

Coach Paul Maurice values the contributions of these veterans on his roster, lumping Okposo and Oliver Ekman-Larsson into the same category.

“As they get a little older, they have an appreciation for the game,” Maurice says. “You can feel it from them. And Vlad came in like that. So, he comes in and plays with Barkov; I think he scored two goals in the second game, and it was a good fit, where Evan Rodrigues is playing now. Then we got injured and we had to start moving him over, left to right. He’s a right wing for me, but he can clearly play the left side.

“The biggest impact is, he’d be on the bench with Barkov — and they’d never stop talking hockey. Like, straight through the entire game, they were talking about the plays. The nice part for me with that is, he’s doing it with Anton Lundell. Anton’s got a whole lot of playoff experience, but he’s still a young player. Keeping him engaged, talking to him about the specifics about what happens on the ice. So, there’s a leadership component to communication on the bench. He’s been very impactful in that way.”

How they line up

Here’s how we suspect the Oilers will go with tonight:

Nugent-Hopkins – McDavid – Hyman
McLeod – Draisaitl – Perry
Janmark – Henrique – Brown
Holloway – Ryan – Foegele

Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Broberg
Kulak – Ceci

Skinner starts

The Panthers, enjoying a six-game win streak, project to stick with the same lineup that won Game 3:

Rodrigues – Barkov – Reinhart
Verhaeghe – Bennett – Tkachuk
Luostarinen – Lundell – Tarasenko
Lorentz – Stenlund – Okposo

Forsling – Ekblad
Mikkola – Montour
Ekman-Larsson – Kulikov

Bobrovsky starts

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