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Oilers force Game 7 of Stanley Cup final with 5-1 win over Panthers

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EDMONTON -

Connor McDavid dragged his team back into the Stanley Cup fight.

Edmonton's supporting cast grabbed the reins from their superstar captain Friday.

Now the Oilers are one win from history. And the Panthers sit one loss from infamy.

Zach Hyman scored his playoff-leading 16th goal and Stuart Skinner made 20 saves as Edmonton defeated Florida 5-1 on Friday to force Game 7.

"The league's too good," Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl said. "You need depth, you need other guys to step up. We've had that throughout the run."

Warren Foegele, with a goal and an assist, and Adam Henrique provided the rest of the offence before Ryan McLeod and Darnell Nurse added empty netters for Edmonton, which has stormed back with three consecutive victories to tie the title series after going down 3-0.

Used to seeing his name in bright lights, Draisaitl had just two assists in the series entering Game 6 before setting up Foegele's opener as one of 11 players — none of them named McDavid — to find the scoresheet.

"It's been a hell of a story so far," said the German, who was critical of himself Friday morning. "Really proud to give ourselves a chance."

Aleksander Barkov replied for the Panthers — a group that will head home searching for answers with their stranglehold on hockey's holy grail having evaporated. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 16 shots.

"We have good moments in the games," said Barkov, whose team will host the winner-take-all finale Monday in Sunrise, Fla. "We gotta take those to the next game."

Edmonton is looking to become only the fifth team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven showdown after trailing 3-0 — and just the second in the Cup final, joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

"The job is not done," Hyman said. "Everybody will forget if we don't finish it."

Edmonton Oilers' Warren Foegele (37) celebrates a goal against the Florida Panthers during first period Game 6 action of the NHL Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton, Friday, June 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

A win by the Oilers in the final game of the 2023-24 season would also mark the end to Canada's 30-year Cup drought dating back to the 1993 Montreal Canadiens' victory over Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings.

"We've been a pretty loose group," Edmonton head coach Kris Knoblauch said. "It's nice to be around this team … they're having the time of their lives."

The orange-and-blue party around Rogers Place started in the hours before the 6 p.m. local time puck drop.

Well-lubricated fans lined up for blocks around the arena for a spot in the outdoor viewing area. Others crowded bars and patios in the sunshine with their hockey team still playing on the second day of summer. One group drove an Oilers-themed Zamboni around the streets in the city's downtown core.

The raucous atmosphere inside the rink hit a fever pitch when the Oilers hit the ice, with the scoreboard sound meter touching 113.8 decibels ahead of the latest NHL game ever played in Canada during a non-pandemic season.

"It means the world to us," Draisaitl said of giving the home crowd a resounding sendoff. "I've been here for a long time and been through some pretty bad years. The people that were there tonight, they showed up every night.

"To give them that is really special."

Edmonton — now 5-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs, including an 8-1 victory in Game 3 and a 5-3 triumph in Game 5 to stay alive thanks to consecutive four-point McDavid performances — opened the scoring at 7:27 of the first period when Draisaitl found Foegele for his third of the post-season.

The Oilers went up 2-0 just 46 seconds into the second off a 2-on-1 that saw Mattias Janmark find Henrique before he settled the puck and ripped his fourth.

Barkov fired past Skinner just 10 seconds later, but Knoblauch correctly challenged for offside.

"The only hesitation was maybe there wasn't the right video," he said. "In my mind it was definitely offside, but I guess you never know."

The Oilers killed off a penalty later in the period — the 45th in the last 46 short-handed situations — before Skinner made a good stop off Barkov on a 2-on-1.

Hyman put his team up by three with 1:40 left in the second when he took a pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and raced in on a breakaway and beat Bobrovsky to the backhand with his 70th overall including the regular season.

The only other players with as many goals in a single post-season over the last 30 years are Joe Sakic (18 in 1996) and Pavel Bure (16 in 1994).

Chants of "Ser-gei! Ser-gei!" rang around the cavernous building as the clock ticked down with the Oilers holding an 18-4 aggregate score over the Panthers since the third period of Game 3.

Florida got on the board at 1:28 of the third when Edmonton couldn't get the puck out and Barkov wove in front to slide his eighth past Skinner.

Edmonton forward Derek Ryan then took a high-sticking penalty, but his teammates once again killed off the threat before McLeod and Nurse, with a primary assist from Skinner after a terrific save, scored into the empty net to spark wild scenes inside and outside Rogers Place.

A team that climbed out of a regular-season hole that had them sitting 32nd in the overall standings before eventually going on a 16-game winning streak — and a pair of other long runs — the Oilers now head to South Florida sitting one win from hockey's ultimate prize.

"Game 7’s going to be my last game coaching this group," Knoblauch said. "Some people are going to be moving on, that's just the nature of the business.

"It's been a real pleasure."

There's just 60 minutes — and perhaps more — to go.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.  

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