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Oilers making it to Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final partly product of 'belief'

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They were written off a little more than a week ago.

Now, against long odds, the Edmonton Oilers will be playing for the Stanley Cup in a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Monday in Florida.

How the National Hockey League's Western representative in the championship final got to this point following Friday's 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers in front of a rabid home crowd is looking like the stuff of legend.

Just nine days ago, the Oilers faced elimination after losing the first three games of the best-of-seven final round playoff series. With Friday's win, they're the 10th team in NHL history to come back to tie a best-of-seven playoff series after being down three games to none.

Four times has a team completed such a comeback to win a series in seven games, just one of them — in 1942 by the Toronto Maple Leafs — in a Stanley Cup Final.

While the Oilers acknowledged the accomplishment of reaching Game 7, players who talked afterwards quickly pointed out there's still one 60-minute session to go.

"It's a great story, but you need to finish it," Oilers forward Zach Hyman said after the game.

"Everybody will forget if you don't finish it. That's the key. Everybody remembers the winners. It's great to give (Oilers fans) a moment like that, but I think they're waiting for a bigger moment."

Indeed, fans at Rogers Place voiced that desire soon after Darnell Nurse scored an empty-net goal to finish the scoring in Game 6, chanting 'We want the Cup' as time ticked away at the end of the third period.

Edmonton Oilers players celebrate an empty net goal against the Florida Panthers during third period Game 6 action of the NHL Stanley Cup final in Edmonton on June 21, 2024. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl, who set up Warren Foegele's first-period goal to open the scoring in Game 6, said coming back in the Cup Final has "been a hell of a story" but that "at the end of the day, we play to win."

"(Game 7) is going to be the hardest game for us," Draisaitl said post-game.

"They're going to come out hard. They're going to play at home. We have to bring our game again. I'm just really proud of the way we gave ourselves a chance."

Both goalie Stuart Skinner and forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the team's longest-tenured player, say belief in themselves has helped propel the Oilers to this ultimate point of the playoffs and season.

Skinner said the players have had a "strong feeling of belief ... for a long time."

"No matter what situation that we put ourselves in, we always do have that belief," said Skinner, who'd suggested before Game 4 if any team could come back from a 0-3 deficit, "it's the Oil."

"Me saying that felt very just normal. I really do believe in this group. I'm sticking to those words."

Nugent-Hopkins said in the dressing room after Game 6 it would've been "easy to fold" after losing the first three games to the Panthers but that belief has played a factor in the turnaround.

"We've truly believed in each other this whole season and throughout the whole playoffs," said Nugent-Hopkins, the versatile forward in his 13th season with Edmonton after the team took him first overall in the 2011 draft.

"You're in the Stanley Cup final. It's a lot of fun. This is what we play for, so nobody's going to give up, nobody's going to turn on each other. We've shown that belief and the character that we have in this group."

Head coach Kris Knoblauch said while the Oilers coming back to force a final game two days from now in Sunrise, Fla., "surprised a lot of people," it didn't astonish "anybody in the room."

"We felt that we could do this," Knoblauch said, referring to the Oilers' regular-season winning streaks, including an eight-game run in late November/early December followed closely by a 16-game heater in December and January.

"We're just playing (with our) backs up against the wall. We've been written off many times throughout the season, so we've been a pretty loose group.

"It's nice to be around this team because I think they're having the time of their lives right now, not only because we're going to Game 7, I think we were having a great time when we were down three games."  

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