Oilers feel confident like ’06 team heading into Game 7, but seek different result

Ron MacLean, Elliotte Friedman, and Kelly Hrudey discuss the top storylines that the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers are facing ahead of the Stanley Cup Final's deciding Game 7.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Edmonton Oilers were making the cross-continent flight for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, coming off a four-goal, home-ice victory in Game 6 that brought them back to level in a series they’d trailed since Game 1.

Could you be more confident than Edmonton that the job would be finished and you’d bring ol’ Stanley home on the team plane?

“Our attitude in this room, our level of confidence, it’s unbelievable,” an Oilers assistant captain was saying. “Our younger players, nothing fazes them. We have that extra level of commitment and that extra level of energy.

“You know, we don’t get rattled in here,” he continued. “We’ve got ourselves to a level now where our best will be good enough. It’s a pretty good feeling going into a big game, that if we play well, we’ll win.”

That Oilers assistant captain was Ethan Moreau.

The year was 2006.

The result. … Well, we all know what the result was for that Oilers team, a 3-1 loss the last time they ventured all the way to Game 7 of Round 4.

Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy that season, many believed, but instead it went to Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. The voting process was reorganized in the wake of that Final, but the ultimate result is all that really matters, as Carolina walked away with its only Stanley Cup.

The fact remains, that Oilers team was as confident as this one is. And they went into Game 7 with every bit as much momentum.

“We believed,” Pronger said over the phone on Saturday. “And I look at this Oilers team — you can tell they believe in one another too. You can tell they believe in how they how they’re playing.”

Pronger has been watching this series, and talking to him is a bit like talking to a Zach Hyman or Connor McDavid. Players see things through different eyes than you and I do, and make no mistake: Pronger comes across more as a former player than merely an interested fan.

He also played for the Philadelphia Flyers team that fell behind the Boston Bruins 3-0 in a first-round series back in 2010. So he’s been there, on both sides of a big comeback within a seven-game series.

“Some of the times when you go down 3-0, 3-1, you can get a feeling the other team is dominating. In this case, I don’t get that sense,” Pronger said of this Cup Final. “Any of those three games they lost, they should have won. We (players) have that belief, that mindset.

“You’re seeing that Edmonton is the more desperate team now. Now they have to go into Game 7 with that same attitude and mindset.

“If you’re Florida — if you’re (Sergei) Bobrovsky — you’re not feeling confident in your ability in the last three games.”

We know Bobrovsky’s game has eroded over the past three games. He had a .953 save percentage and a 1.33 goals-against average in Games 1-3, but in Games 4-6 those numbers changed to .793 and 5.06.

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Bob hasn’t seen a podium or media scrum since he was pulled from Game 4, however, so we can only speculate on his mental state heading into Game 7.

But Edmonton’s most important players are talkative, loose and productive, with a history of figuring out some mighty good goalies halfway through a series.

“McDavid and (Leon) Draisaitl, with their talent it’s just a matter time,” Pronger said. “You’re only going to stymie them for so long, and now look at where they’re at. They’re very confident. They’ve shown a lot of moxie and mettle in coming back, and now it’s win one game and win a championship.”

Remember though, those ’06 Hurricanes were in a very similar spot and they came through at home in Game 7. Carolina had blown a 3-1 series lead, and the Oilers won a tight Game 5 in Raleigh (4-3 in overtime) before smoking the Hurricanes 4-0 at Rexall Place in a game that could have been 8-0.

Carolina was steamrolled in that Game 6, while the combined score of this series through the last three games stands at 18-5 for Edmonton. The Panthers haven’t led for a single second since Game 3.

“I don’t know what or how to explain it, to come out and play like we did,” Carolina defenceman Glen Wesley said back in ’06, as the series prepared for Game 7. “I think we are all embarrassed with the way we played.”

You know there is some embarrassment in the Panthers camp. They’ve blown three chances to win a Stanley Cup in a league where players play their entire careers and don’t get that many opportunities to make their Stanley Cup dream come true.

Certainly, for guys like old Oilers favourite Ryan Smyth, that Game 7 in ’06 represented the lone night in a 1,270-game career where the Cup was in the building and he could have got his mitts on it.

Alas …

“You look back on your childhood, you think of the Stanley Cup Final, or being in a Stanley Cup,” Smyth said on the morning of that Game 7. “You don’t think of being on Team Canada. The fact is, [tonight] is probably the biggest game that we’ll all be part of.”

The Decade of Darkness would commence the next fall. Smyth never got another chance at a ring.

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