Edmonton Oilers To Face Florida Panthers In The 2024 Stanley Cup ...

3 Jun 2024
Florida Panthers

Connor McDavid opened the scoring as the Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a ... [+] 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

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In his ninth NHL season, Connor McDavid is about to get his first chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

On Sunday, the Edmonton Oilers captain opened the scoring in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars with a spectacular individual effort on the power play.

With another man advantage later in the first, he added a primary assist on what proved to be the game winner by Zach Hyman. The Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006 with a 2-1 win, taking the series against the Stars by a 4-2 margin.

Edmonton will now face the Florida Panthers, who dispatched the New York Rangers in six games on Saturday to reach the final for a second-straight year. The Stanley Cup Final will begin next Saturday at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Fla.

As the lower-seeded squads in the conference finals, both Edmonton and Florida were able to celebrate their series wins in front of their home fans. With 110 points, the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and finished fifth overall in the league standings. The Oilers were six points back with 104 points. They finished second in the Pacific Division, behind the Vancouver Canucks.

But a month into the 2023-24 season, no one would have projected the Oilers to go on their best playoff run of the McDavid era. They started the season with a record of 3-9-1 before coach Jay Woodcroft was replaced by Kris Knoblauch on Nov. 12, 2023.

Hired out of the AHL, with no NHL experience except two years as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, 45-year-old Knoblauch coached the Oilers to a league-best .703 points percentage through the remaining 69 games of the regular season.

In the playoffs, Edmonton dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in five games before rebounding from a 3-2 series deficit to eliminate the Canucks. The Oilers also fell into a 2-1 series hole against the Stars before flipping a switch after giving up two early goals in Game 4. From there, they outscored Dallas 10-2 to advance.

Heading into the final, the Oilers occupy four of the top five spots in the playoff scoring race. The top-scoring Panther, Matthew Tkachuk, sits sixth.

Connor McDavid (EDM) - 29 pts Leon Draisaitl (EDM) - 27 pts Evan Bouchard (EDM) - 25 pts Vincent Trocheck (NYR) - 20 pts Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) - 20 pts Matthew Tkachuk (FLA) - 19 pts

For years, the Oilers have been known for their offense. McDavid has five Art Ross trophies as the NHL’s regular-season scoring leader, and Draisaitl also has one.

What’s different this year is the defending. At 24, Bouchard has broken out as a point producer, and the Oilers’ penalty kill has been rock solid — 14-for-14 against Dallas and 43-for-46 through three rounds of the playoffs.

Edmonton’s power play has been a crucial weapon — 17 for 49 in the playoffs and producing four of Edmonton’s last five goals to clinch the series against Dallas. But Florida just limited a formidable Rangers unit to one goal in six games, and the Panthers’ 14 power-play goals on 60 opportunities are second-most in the playoffs, behind only Edmonton.

Will one side find a special-teams advantage, or will the two strong penalty kills cancel each other out and force the final to be decided at 5-on-5?

The Florida Panthers have been a confident squad that looks like they still have more to give as ... [+] they enter the 2024 Stanley Cup Final. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

By the time the Panthers got to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final last season, they were battered and broken, and a comparatively healthy Vegas Golden Knights squad took them down in five games.

This year, Florida has been better equipped to deal with what has come its way, both physically and emotionally. With roster additions like Vladimir Tarasenko, Kyle Okposo, Evan Rodrigues and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Panthers are deeper and not as worn at this stage. Last year, they needed to stage a two-month late-season push to snag the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race during the last week of the regular season, and start their postseason journey.

On the surface, the Panthers also hold an advantage in net, with two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky going against second-year NHLer Stuart Skinner. But Skinner has been solid since returning to the net after being pulled for two games against the Canucks, and gave up just two goals a game against the high-octane Stars.

Edmonton has already stared down potential elimination twice against Vancouver. And while the Panthers famously erased a 3-1 deficit in the first round against the Boston Bruins last season, they’ve had an easier run this year — taking down the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games, then beating both the Bruins and the Rangers in six.

Both sides are riding three-game winning streaks coming into the final. That should generate plenty of confidence among both fanbases. Next Saturday, something will have to give, which should make for a terrific series opener.

The Oilers, famously, have won five Stanley Cups in their history. But all five came between 1984 and 1990. The Panthers didn’t even join the NHL as an expansion franchise until 1993. They’ve never won the Cup and before last year, their only other appearance in the final came in 1996.

It’s a sun-belt expansion squad vs. a storied franchise that’s looking to bring a championship to Canada for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll know how it all turns out.

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