Stanley Cup Final Game 7 Notebook: Oilers have entered historic territory

Gene Principe and Mark Spector get us set for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, as the Oilers hope to capitalize on their first crack at winning the Cup, why all of Canada should cheer for them, and why we should expect an Oilers fan invasion in Sunrise.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Well, here we are. Game 7.

Every year the league labels a certain date with, “Last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final,” but only rarely do we observe that date as we will tonight.

Also observing is a plane-load of Oilers family — players’ parents, extended staff who don’t usually travel — flown in by the team to be in Florida for this game.

Flights, Canadian customs, hotels, tickets, last-minute requests … Can you imagine being the person in charge of all of those logistics, responsible for not letting any of those details slip through a crack?

So, on the day of the most important game this franchise has played in 18 years, a shout-out to the Oilers’ director of team services, Kaite Doyle, and her people. A day like this isn’t complete without having your family on hand, and Doyle et al have had that plane-load of responsibility.

Meanwhile, perhaps as many as 5,000 Oilers fans will be in the building Monday night. The scene, the magnitude of the game, a Canadian team, the way the Oilers got here, Connor McDavid

Is this the biggest Game 7 of our generation? It just might be.

Keeping it routine

It takes a special effort to maintain a routine on a day like this.

But while the Florida Panthers likely want to change up their game-day routine after three straight losses — goalie Sergei Bobrovsky opted not to practise for the first time on Sunday — the Oilers are trying not to change a thing.

They’re telling themselves that this scenario is going to end the way all the other similar ones have ended this spring.

“It’s our sixth elimination game, so we’re used to being in this position,” said Oilers winger Zach Hyman. “It’s the first time we have the ability to win, which is an amazing opportunity. But all those games you’ve played as if it is a Game 7, because it’s your last game of the season.”

Only three other teams in NHL history have faced six or more elimination games in a run, and just one of those — the 2014 L.A. Kings — won the Cup.

[brightcove videoID=6355615006112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

No line changes

Less than half the team took the morning skate Monday morning, but no lineup changes are expected for Edmonton. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — who stayed home from the rink on Sunday, feeling ill — was at Amerant Bank Arena for meetings Monday and is expected to play.

Here’s how Edmonton will line up:




Viking Alberta

In the quarter century that Ken Holland has been an NHL general manager, Mattias Ekholm has become perhaps the best trade he ever made. The big Swede came from Nashville last season along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for Tyson Barrie, Reid Schaefer, a first- and a fourth-round draft pick.

We thought we knew how good a player and person Ekholm was from the covering Nashville Predators games over the years, but it turns out he is better than we thought. He is the perfect No. 2 defenceman for a young No. 1 like Evan Bouchard, fluent in two languages — and a better quote in English than 90 per cent of his Canadian teammates — and then we find out that the Ekholms love the thought of raising their kids in a winter city like Edmonton.

[brightcove videoID=6355610701112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

He’s six-foot-five and 225 pounds, a sound and able puck-mover, and he scored 11 goals this season and five more in these playoffs.

What more do you want? How about a guy who can laugh at himself, as he did on the podium before Game 7, when asked about his pre-series warning about being ready for Game 1.

“Well, funny enough, I thought my biggest lesson was, you can’t really dip your toe in the water because it’ll be over sooner than later. Sure enough, we didn’t do a great job of that,” he said of Edmonton’s 0-3 series deficit. “But here we are, Game 7, right?

“I remember somebody said before the playoffs: ‘Don’t script the playoffs. Don’t script your journey. Just try to live the moment. Just stay in the moment.’ If you’re thinking too much about stuff you can’t control it’s going to get out of your hands.”

Nobody saw coming what we will all witness tonight. Least of all anyone in an Oilers jersey.

“You never know how it’s going to turn out or how it’s going to end up,” Ekholm said. “You look back nine, 10 days — nobody thought we’d be here. But surely we are.”

Nuge is huge

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the longest serving Oilers player with 881 regular season games played and another 82 in the playoffs, was drafted first overall in the 2011 draft — exactly 13 years ago today.

Thirteen long years before his first chance to win a Stanley Cup.

“He’s been an Oiler for a long time, and he’s gone through some dark days as an Oiler and kind of come out the other side,” said captain Connor McDavid, whose own draft occurred in this very building in Sunrise back in 2015. “Now he’s a big reason why we have an opportunity to be in this position.”

Of course, every first-overall pick is supposed to turn into a franchise player. At age 31, Nugent-Hopkins may not quite be that, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a forward who does as many things at as high a level as he does.

He’s a first-line winger, a second-line centre, and a crucial part of both the NHL’s best penalty kill and top power play. Four seasons into an eight-year deal with an AAV of $5.125 million, RNH’s contract has aged as well as he has.

“He means a lot to our group. He means a lot to the people of the city of Edmonton,” McDavid said. “Obviously, he took a massive pay cut to stay there and be a part of the group. And he’s a big part of it.”

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.