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Playing through injury, Oilers' Kane may have reached a breaking point in the Stanley Cup Final

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EDMONTON -

Kris Knoblauch engaged Evander Kane in a conversation before the Edmonton Oilers started practice. The chat lasted roughly five minutes, and Kane left the ice just after hearing from his coach.

Kane has been playing through a sports hernia that has hampered his production, specifically one point in eight games. With the Oilers trailing the Florida Panthers 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the time may have come to scratch the 32-year-old winger the first time this postseason for Game 3 on Thursday night.

“Evander’s very beneficial to have in our lineup with physicality and hits,” Knoblauch said Wednesday. “And as a coaching staff, we’re making those decisions and it’s difficult to measure it."

Hockey history is full of tales of NHL players gutting through painful injuries in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. In 1964, Bobby Baun scored for Toronto in overtime in Game 6 of the final after breaking his ankle in the third period. More recently, Patrice Bergeron played Game 6 of the 2013 final with a punctured lung, longtime Boston teammate Zdeno Chara finished the 2019 final with a broken jaw and Florida's Matthew Tkachuk scored a tying goal last year with a broken sternum, then played another game before being sidelined.

Kane's situation, not being close to 100% healthy this late in a long run, is reminiscent of Tkachuk's, which Panthers coach Paul Maurice explained was one that eventually he took over decision-making for.

Tkachuk broke his sternum in Game 3 of the final against Vegas, and Tkachuk felt the heart-and-soul winger “earned the right” to play in Game 4.

“He wasn’t playing the next one,” Maurice said. “To his credit, he had three really good chances to score when we’re down a goal. He’s net front and if he’s healthy, based on the playoffs he’s having, he scores that goal. But he couldn’t. It was all he could do.”

"There’s lots of guys going through different things," Kane said. “There was a sports commentator that was talking a few years ago and it always stuck out to me: If you’re on the field, everybody expects you to be yourself, essentially, so if you dress, they expect you to perform like you’re at your best. Obviously. there’s reality, but at the same time, I think as an athlete that’s what you expect from yourself.”

Knoblauch acknowledged earlier in the series that Kane has been limited and was not his usual self. The calculus of deciding between how effective a key player can be while injured and making a change is not an easy one.

“You look at what they’re contributing on the ice and even the leadership that they provide,” Knoblauch said. “Every player’s different. What are they doing? Are they contributing on the penalty kill? Are they scoring a key goal? Or is it the physicality?”

One benefit for the Oilers is their depth, with 14 forwards seeing action on this playoff run.

“Kris has made and the coaching staff has made some different decisions along the way, and everybody’s done a great job of stepping in and contributing, and guys who have gone out have stayed ready and jumped back in and helped just the same,” captain Connor McDavid said. “It’s unfortunate that guys have to not play some games, but everybody’s pulling on the rope here. Everybody understands where we’re at.” 

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