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Oilers embracing Edmonton's playoff fever: 'The excitement's high'


Mattias Ekholm got off the plane and headed to the pitch.

After the long journey from Florida to Edmonton — including a refuelling stop — the Oilers defenceman went to watch his son's soccer game Wednesday evening.

"Comes running up to me and he goes, 'Daddy, my teammate wants to meet you,'" Ekholm said. "We're embracing it and it's just fun. People love hockey here."

Such is life when the city's team is still playing as spring flips to summer.

Edmonton has battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup final against the Panthers with consecutive victories to force Game 6 on Friday. Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday in South Florida.

The Alberta capital — one of the NHL's outposts with rabid support similar to what the NFL's Green Bay Packers experience away from the limelight in Wisconsin — is awash in orange and blue.

Office workers head out on their lunch breaks sporting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl jerseys. Businesses have signs plastered over their windows in solidarity.

"It's just amazing for the city," Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner said. "People are having a lot of fun, just enjoying themselves."

The born-and-raised Edmonton product is also trying to stay out of the public eye away from the rink as much as possible.

"I'm letting my wife do the shopping right now, and she's been wonderful," Skinner said with a smile. "It's really hard to get into a situation like this, and being able to embrace this moment that you've worked so hard for is really all you can do."

Veteran forward Corey Perry played against the Oilers in the 2017 post-season and was again in the city during the COVID-19 pandemic when it hosted one of the NHL's bubbles, but has a different perspective from this side.

"Pretty incredible to witness," he said. "Coming in for the playoffs (as a visitor), you don't know because you're not from here, you don't really pay attention to it. You're just here to play a hockey game.

"But you really see what's going on around the city here now."

Perry, who spent most of his career in warmer U.S. markets, said the vibe is special.

"All the people coming down outside — the watch parties — everybody notices it," he said. "You can hear them honking the horns when we're in our dressing room. You can hear everything.


Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch walked through the crowded streets around Rogers Place after beating the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

"The excitement's high," he said. "Playing in that game where so many people are interested in what happens, we're thrilled to be a part of that. We're thrilled to be part of that last game being played in Canada (this season).

"But we'll also be very thrilled to be playing that last game, which is going to be a Game 7, hopefully."

Ekholm, who started his career with the Nashville Predators and made a run to the 2017 Cup final, is enjoying every moment.

Even an impromptu meet-and-greet at a local park.

"It's been different … especially this playoff round," Ekholm said. "People are excited, people are happy.

"It's just a great thing."

Shaking it up

The Panthers will make at least one lineup change for Game 6, with forward Nick Cousins replacing Kyle Okposo.

Florida is also promoting defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the top power-play unit in place of Brandon Montour, whose turnover led to Connor Brown's short-handed opener for the Oilers in Game 5.

"The composure that he has at the top I think sets him apart, and he's relishing it," Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of Ekman-Larsson. "It's back in his wheel house."

Drai spell

While McDavid has led Edmonton's attack with 11 points in the series — including eight over the Oilers' last two victories — Draisaitl has just two assists in five games.

"He's been playing well," Knoblauch said of the big centre. "He's been doing a lot of things for our team and just missing the goals and assists.

"Has to do with the luck factor."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.