Oilers fall just short of one final epic comeback

Relive all the epic goals, stunning upsets, and marvelous moments from the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, soundtracked by the Killers' 'All These Things That I've Done'.

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Edmonton Oilers were a team that overcame everything it encountered, from a 2-9-1 start, to being buried at Thanksgiving, to multiple playoff deficits. They were going to be the ’42 Leafs, the only team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the Stanley Cup.

Finally however, with spring turned to summer, they ran out of gas.

The sun set on these Oilers, ironically, in Sunrise, a 2-1, Game 7 loss to the Florida Panthers.

“We gave it… Everything,” said Zach Hyman.

In their sixth elimination game of these playoffs, the magic simply ran out. Neither Conn Smythe Trophy winner Connor McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl could forge a point in Game 7, and a team that gets to three goals more consistently than any team in hockey somehow stalled at one, a Mattias Janmark breakaway goal just 6:44 into the game.

They were disconsolate afterwards, as hockey players are when they play this hard for this long, and watch someone else hoist big Stanley.

[brightcove videoID=6355638170112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“We knew it was going be tight — Game 7 for the Cup,” said McDavid, who did not emerge from the post-game dressing room to accept the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP. “We knew it was going to come down to one thing here and there.

“We’re an inch away from going ahead 2-1, right before they go ahead 2-1. They did a good job of shutting things down. We had our looks.”

After losing control of this series starting with that 8-1 shellacking in Game 4, the Panthers reeled this Final back in on their fourth and final kick at the cat Monday. Florida was the better team in Game 7 and the game was played on their terms.

The things we hadn’t seen in three games returned, the pinching Panthers defencemen, the blanket defence, and most importantly, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s game.

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

A season that began as “Cup or bust,” a declaration made a year ago by both Draisaitl and McDavid, ends somewhere in between.

[brightcove videoID=6355638335112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

You can never define a run that went this far as failure. But in the end, it’s not the Cup either.

“It’s hard to look at it in black and white,” said Hyman, whose incredible season ends with 54 regular-season goals and another 16 in the playoffs. “We come a shot away from sending it to overtime. We battle back from 3-0. We battle back from (down) 3-2 in Vancouver. We battle back from being near the basement in November, 10 points out of a playoff spot. So no, I don’t think it’s a failure.”

“It’s devastating,” he continued. “You go through an entire year, another 25 games in the playoffs, and you’ve just battled through everything to get the closest you can ever come. I mean, you’re one goal away from sending it overtime. It’s heartbreaking.

“I’m really proud of everybody for getting to this point, but it’s something that’s going to always stick with you.”

Back in 2006, the Oilers lost a similar Game 7, losing 3-1 with an empty net goal in Carolina. That team was a one-off, however, not the current club that has played nine playoff series over the past three springs.

This was to be Connor McDavid’s entrance to hockey’s Mount Rushmore, the final, most important trophy to adorn his trophy case. Alas, he was awarded on Monday, but no kid ever played Game 7 on his driveway in hopes of one day winning a Conn Smythe.

[brightcove videoID=6355635980112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“It’s an honour with the names on that trophy,” was all McDavid would say about being the sixth player from a losing team — and only the second non-goalie — to win the trophy.

“There’s no player in the world that wants to win a Stanley Cup more than him. He does everything right, every single day, just to win it one day,” Draisaitl said of his captain. “He’s the greatest player to ever play, in my books. So many things that a lot of people don’t see that he does, his work ethic.

“He singlehandedly turned our franchise around. Just love sharing the ice with him. He’s just a really, really special person.”

A year ago these same Panthers were the ones with red eyes, after a five-game Cup Final loss to Vegas. Today, they were the teachers, not the students.

Somehow, just when you think there aren’t any more to be learned, this cruel sport metes out one more painful, heart-breaking lesson.

It’s crazy to think that after all they accomplished this season, it wasn’t enough. That there had to be one more hard knock for the Oilers to endure.

“Just looking at the big picture,” mused Ekholm, “what we’ve been through, the steps that this group has taken, the maturity level, the compete that we put on in the playoffs…

“Hopefully, this is a huge stepping stone for a group where we can finally do it next year.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.