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Oilers take lead from star captain McDavid in clawing way back into Stanley Cup Final

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Somehow, some way, the Edmonton Oilers are alive in the Stanley Cup Final despite starting the series against the Florida Panthers with three losses.

How they did it, you might wonder, is also the reason why you might not have any doubt: their star players, in particular Connor McDavid, ramped up their play to dominate and, importantly, thrived under the pressure of elimination.

Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said Wednesday — the day after his team's 5-3 win in Sunrise, Fla., making the NHL championship series three games to two in favour of the Panthers — his players have "seen so much adversity" over the season that it "elevates their game."

"Right now, we're playing on house money," Knoblauch told media on Tuesday morning.

"No one expected us to be here right now, no one gave us an opportunity maybe even to be in the Stanley Cup Final, let alone gave us an opportunity to claw our way back in this series. We're just having fun.

"I know there's always been a lot of belief in this room. We're just trying to stretch us out as long as we can."

Game 6 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Rogers Place.

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal during the third period of Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers on June 18, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. The Oilers defeated the Panthers 5-3. (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)McDavid has been the spearhead of the Oilers attack the last two games, scoring four points in each of Edmonton's victories in Games 4 and 5. His 42 points thus far in these playoffs stand as the fourth-best individual post-season scoring performance in National Hockey League history.

"When we're against the wall, he puts us on his back," Oilers winger Corey Perry, who tapped in a feed from McDavid after the star captain weaved through a series of Panthers players en route to the net, said after Game 5.

"You see why he's the best."

And while the Panthers have watched the Oilers gain ground and eat away at their comfortable series lead, Florida head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday that doesn't mean there's even more pressure on his team to close it out.

"I'm not sure that I agree with the assessment that the pressure has shifted so heavily to us," Maurice told media in Florida, using the Game 4 Panthers loss as a reference.

"We've had something possibly to protect at 3-0, protect the opportunity. We've earned this, now we've got to protect it, and they would've had nothing to protect in Game 4, so there's a bit of a levelling out of what you feel you have to protect."

Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) and Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (97) go after the puck during Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on June 18, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)Knoblauch credited McDavid and fellow Oilers star Leon Draisaitl for setting the tone for the team not just in terms of putting up points but performing duties needed to keep their teammates focused.

"They're driven to be successful individually but also wanting the team to have success and playing the right way," the Oilers coach said.

"For superstars to dump the puck in and forecheck and backcheck and finish checks, they've been all committed and bought into doing that.

"When your two star players play that system, the rest of the team has no choice but to tag along and do the little things that are required to be successful."

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a goal against the Florida Panthers during Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in Edmonton on June 15, 2024, at Edmonton's Rogers Place. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)Now, they're heading back to Edmonton — dragging the Panthers back to Alberta, a goal identified by McDavid following the Oilers' Game 4 win at home and now much quoted and referenced — to keep their Cup dreams alive.

"It's been a fun ride," McDavid said Tuesday after Game 5.

"All we've earned here is another day ... We'll be ready to go in Edmonton."