Against all odds, Oilers will play a Game 7: ‘If anyone can do it, it’s the Oil’

Warren Foegele had a goal and an assist while Stuart Skinner made 20 saves and added a helper of his own as the Edmonton Oilers stay alive, beating the Florida Panthers 5-1 to force a Game 7.

EDMONTON — “We’re trying to figure them out,” said Connor McDavid.  

Leon Draisaitl just shook his head: “It’s very frustrating.”

The Edmonton Oilers were only three games into their long-awaited Stanley Cup voyage and already the yacht was on the rocks, the shrimp cocktails strewn across the poopdeck.

But then it was Stuart Skinner’s turn to speak, and he uttered the phrase that may soon be on a T-shirt rack near you:

“I’m not too sure what the stats are on coming back from it,” Skinner said that night, “but if anyone can do it, it’s the Oil.”

Well, well, well.

Since when is the goalie the smartest guy in the room?

Somehow, some way, the Oilers squeezed two more La Bambas and a road win out of this Stanley Cup Final since those words were uttered, becoming just the third team in history to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in the championship series.

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Edmonton spanked the Florida Panthers 5-1 in Game 6 on Friday, treating a fabulous fan base to a delicious buffet of offence. Twelve players (including the goalie) registered a point — and amazingly, none of them were named Connor McDavid.

After two four-point nights in Games 4 and 5, the pointless McDavid emerged from his phone booth as a rabid defender in Game 6. He saved a goal by hauling down Sasha Barkov, and was as stern a defender on Friday as he had been potent on offence in the previous two games.

This, folks, is what a captain is supposed to look like. Close your eyes and he’s like Sidney Crosby — only faster.

“He’s the face of this comeback for us. He’s pulled the whole group back in this series,” said Mattias Janmark, whose fingerprints were all over this Game 6 victory.  “I’m just happy for us others to get on the board, win a game and try to do the same next game.”

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The depth players who were supposed to be inferior to the Dallas Stars’ deep roster entered this series with the same rap. Today, that group of second-besters will take one last flight to Florida, seeking a Game 7 win Monday over a Panthers team that has not led for a single second of these last three games.

They say there is no momentum carried over from game to game in a Stanley Cup Final. But the Oilers are a freight train, chugging downhill towards a Florida team that had held up pretty well until Friday, but now appears rattled.

As the kids say, Edmonton is a wagon. Surely, they have momentum now, no?

“We have belief. I think that’s the word I want to use,” said Zach Hyman, who is back scoring again. “Every game you win it gets stronger, and the outside belief from other people, they start believing too. A lot of people weren’t so interested in this Final when it was 0-3, but now I’m sure a lot of people will be tuning in.

“That’s why sports is amazing, because the unthinkable can happen,” continued hockey’s most published story-teller.

“We’re in a spot where we thought it could happen, when nobody else believed that it could. Now, we’ve got an opportunity. That’s all you can ask for.”

The scene in Edmonton, as the curtain fell on the National Hockey League schedule North of the 49th parallel for another season, was pure Canadiana. They sang to Guns and Roses, they cheered themselves on the scoreboard, they booed the refs and closed the night with a couple of ear-splitting renditions of “WE WANT THE CUP!”

Draisaitl came into the game with two assists, and told the hockey media after the morning skate that his lack or production was on him — not his linemates, or an injury. And he vowed to be better.

Then he stepped out of the gate and fed Warren Foegele for the 1-0 goal just 7:27 into the game, a luscious feed.

“I’m just really proud of the way we gave ourselves a chance,” he said on that same podium post-game. “And but by no means is this going to be easy. This is going to be the hardest game of the series.

“It’s been a hell of a story so far, but at the end of the day, we play to win, right? And this is going to be the hardest game for us.”

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These are two different teams, from two vastly different markets, that have taken two markedly different paths to arrive at the same place:

Sunrise, Florida. Monday night. The final game of the 2023-24 NHL schedule.

The Panthers have few dents to pound out of their psyche after blowing three straight chances to fulfil a Stanley Cup dream.

“Right now, if you walked into the room, there won’t be a lot of happy people,” began head coach Paul Maurice. “You’ve suffered a defeat, you feel it, it hurts. You lick your wounds and we start building that back tomorrow. But who you are tonight means nothing to who you’re going to be two days from now.”

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The Oilers?

Who’s having more fun than them these days?

“We believe. We believe in each other. We believe in this group,” McDavid said. “Honestly, we’re just having fun,”

The last word goes to the soothsayer Skinner, who grew up in the stands of old Rexall Place, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as his favourite Oiler.

You know he’s a local, because only the locals call them “The Oil.”

“I really do believe in this group. And I’m sticking to those words,” Skinner said. “If anyone can do it, it’s the Oil.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do here, though.”

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