These resilient Oilers simply won’t stop believing

The Hockey Central panel break down the Edmonton Oilers' 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, discussing Connor McDavid's legacy performance and the special teams' impact on the contest.

“We have a belief that we’re going to pull this off.” — Mattias Ekholm.

SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve fallen so far behind in a series that the hill in front of you hasn’t been climbed since 1942, it’s one thing to tell everyone how much you believe.

Most times, you’re faking it.

“I’ve been part of a lot of teams that have always said they had strong belief,” Edmonton Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch was saying after Game 5. “Most of the time, they don’t.”

But if you stack example on top of example — a 2-9-1 start on top of being out of the playoffs on U.S. Thanksgiving; two elimination games in Round 2 on top of coming off the mat against Dallas in Round 3 — the belief gets real.

It becomes tangible.

“Every single time that you’re able to just show yourself, show your team, that we can count on each other. (That) we believe in each other,” began Stu Skinner. “It’s one thing to say it, but to show it and to actually do it…

“I mean, it’s easy to talk the talk. It’s a lot harder to walk the walk. We’re proving to ourselves that we can do both.”

They’re walking the walk all right, leaving footprints all over the Florida Panthers‘ hearts.

With the Stanley Cup in the building and 150 family and friends of the Panthers back to celebrate a Stanley Cup for the second game in a row, the Oilers played the party wrecker in a thrilling 5-3 victory.

Connor McDavid, dubbed Connor “McOverrated” by some dummy who writes out of Miami, had his second straight four-point night, while Skinner out-duelled Sergei Bobrovsky again in a gutsy, hard-nosed win.

It’s the game that champions play, and the Oilers played it in Game 5 on Tuesday. It doesn’t mean the Stanley Cup will be theirs this year — there’s plenty of hockey to be played — but a team that wins this game in this fashion with this guy as their captain, will win one day. Rest assured.

“Hockey is simple,” began Zach Hyman, who scored his first goal of this Final as Edmonton built a 3-0 lead.  “You can go through systems, and go through structure, and go through all the details. But at the end of the day, it’s whoever wins the most battles.

“Who is winning those battles on the walls? Who’s winning the net-front battles, in front of your net and in front of their net? That’s how goals are scored.”

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This series is shifting, in all the places that really matter.

After Florida dominated the middle of the rink over the first three games, Edmonton has taken that crucial area away with some tactical changes that have the aggressive Panthers on their heels. As Hyman said, the Oilers are winning their share of 50/50 pucks now, and Florida doesn’t control the two blue-lines the way it did early in the series.

“We took care of the middle of the ice, and it’s so important in those moments where they’re pushing. We won a lot of wall battles, got pucks out when we needed to chip them out … I guess that’s what some people would call a little bit of maturity in our team, what we’re doing defensively.”

Edmonton finally scored a couple of five-on-four, power-play goals Tuesday, and Connor Brown’s shorty that opened the scoring gave the Oilers their familiar edge in the special-teams battle that has been missing thus far.

And the goaltending battle? That too has turned.

For two games at least, Skinner has been the better goalie. He stopped 29 pucks in Game 5, and weathered the onslaught as the Oilers’ lead whittled down from 4-1, to 4-2, to the 4-3 goal that Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored just 4:04 into the third period.

But despite a Panthers team that came in waves, the Oilers had the ability to defend what they’d gained.

They’ve long passed the stage where these moments make them look weak, or inexperienced. Quite the opposite, actually.

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“The more situations you go through where you face adversity, it just sets you up for being able to handle it in the future,” Knoblauch explained. “We’ve been through this, whether it was in previous seasons, elimination games, whatever happened in the past, but this year definitely.

“We saw it in the L.A. series, Vancouver, Dallas … And now here being down 0-3 and surviving a couple of them. Guys are just having fun, playing hockey.”

Having fun?

You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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This series now returns to a Northern Alberta city that has individual neighborhoods that can claim more hockey fans than exist in all of South Florida. It’s a town that now believes as much as their heroes do — and they’ll play in a building that will be positively seismic on Friday night.

The great costume party that is an Oilers game in June gets one more run, one final chance to fete a team and a captain that just may be making an historic run to the first Canadian Stanley Cup since 1993.

“It’s a party,” Knoblauch said of being part of a playoff game in Edmonton.

It was supposed to be a party here in Sunrise on Tuesday.

The Edmonton Oilers, however, believed otherwise.

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