Oilers fall short in every way as Stanley Cup slips further from grasp

Aleksander Barkov scored the game-winning goal and notched an assist while Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves to lead the Florida Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers to take a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

EDMONTON — Newsflash: The Florida Panthers are simply a better team than the Edmonton Oilers. Or at least, they play a better game of Stanley Cup playoff hockey.

Why are the Oilers coughing up pucks every night that end up in their goal, while Florida is not? Because Florida is cleaner in their own zone, and smarter.

Why is Florida scoring three or four goals a night while Edmonton is chasing every game? Because when the Panthers get a chance they get it to the net, while Edmonton button-hooks, passes off and works the perimeter, always searching for the tic-tac-toe goal, and not grinding out the greasy one until far too late in this fatal third game.

The Oilers have solved three teams on the road to this Final. But the Panthers, they’re a puzzle that Edmonton does not seem able to solve.

“We’re trying to figure them out,” said Connor McDavid. “We haven’t beat them in three games, we’ve had stretches of good and stretches of bad… We’re trying to figure them out.”

He and Leon Draisaitl are both without a goal in this series. Draisaitl doesn’t even have a point.

“It’s very frustrating,” Draisaitl said. “I pride myself on being good in the playoffs and playing well, and I just can’t seem to get anything going. Obviously, I have to look in the mirror and try to be better.”

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The Oilers hung around a while in Game 3 on a goal by Warren Foegele, but Florida got one hand on their first-ever Stanley Cup with a three-goal outburst in a 6:19 span of the second period. With a 4-1 lead and a dispirited Rogers Place, Florida found the finish line in a 4-3 win.

They’ve won most of the last seven periods of this Cup Final. Win two or three more on Saturday night and the Stanley Cup will be on the ice at Rogers Place. Sadly for the Oilers, the captain taking it from commissioner Gary Bettman will not be McDavid.

“We’re playing in June, and that’s something to be very grateful for,” began goalie Stuart Skinner, who has not been as sharp as the spectacular Sergei Bobrovsky, as if anyone could. “At the same time… it is disappointing being down 3-0. We’ve got to let that reality sink in.

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

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The second-period implosion was something the Oilers had vowed not to re-live after they blew their second-round series against Vegas last spring with a similar meltdown. And they’d been very good at avoiding it thus far.

But the frustration administered by the Panthers was visible on Thursday night, and it exposed an Oilers team that has simply run out of ways to find success against this opponent.

“After they got that second one, they just kind of got on a roll,” Skinner said. “We let them take that momentum and stride with it. They got two more quick ones — just kind of silly mistakes that (don’t) need to happen.”

Apart from the fact that none of McDavid, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or the vaunted Oilers power play has managed a goal in this series, this series will be remembered locally for mistakes made by Edmonton that were force-fed into their own goal by Florida.

With the score tied at one Thursday, Skinner misplayed a puck behind his goal and was solely responsible for the 2-1 goal. Then Darnell Nurse, in full possession of the biscuit, was stripped.

Boom! It’s 3-1 for Florida.

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The Aleksander Barkov breakaway goal that made it 4-1 put the dagger in the Oilers’ Stanley Cup dreams.

“I don’t know,” said Draisaitl. “We’re a good offensive team, we’re doing a good job. We’re still getting our looks. When you’re chasing the game for a big chunk of the night it’s just hard to come back.”

“Two of the three games we’re at or above our (average) expected goals scored,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “We’re playing well enough to score goals, putting ourselves in a good enough position to score goals.

“We’ve had more breakaways in these three games than we’ve had through the playoffs. We’re getting our chances.”

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The Panthers simply have the recipe to beating Edmonton, from crushing the Oilers on their attempted zone exits to knowing that the path of least resistance is the preferred one by too many Oilers forwards.

Florida is simply a harder, more defensively sound team with better goaltending, deeper scoring depth and structure that is more sound and consistent. And if you manage to get a puck through the near-perfect system played by the Panthers, the guy waiting in their goal is nearly impenetrable.

“Their goalie is playing incredible right now,” Draisaitl said. “You can probably find a way to push a couple more over the goal, and it’s probably a different game. But we just gave up too many. Made too many mistakes.”

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