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‘A team full of guys who are hungry:’ Oilers look to continue enjoying Stanley Cup Finals experience

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Photo credit:Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
28 days ago
The Edmonton Oilers aren’t shying away from where they are.
The franchise has reached the promised land of the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2006, and while the pressure is unlike anything the majority of these players have played under, they haven’t let that get to them.
In fact, they’re trying to make the most of these days, Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said Thursday.
“I can’t speak for Florida, but I know for our group, we’ve enjoyed this whole process,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed just the fact that we’ve handled adversity all season, being 32nd in the NHL one time, to facing elimination games in difficult times through the playoffs, and right now, any extra time we get to spend together, any extra game we get to play, we feel very fortunate to do.
“We feel very fortunate to be in this Game 6 situation, but I know I’ve got a team full of guys who are hungry to make sure they get to play two more games, and not just one.”
The team has been together for 274 days, since training camp opened on Sept. 20th, 2023, and it’s been quite the ride. From early season woes, to a coaching change, to losing skids and big winning streaks, this team has almost seen it all.
It’s something they’ve rallied around all playoffs and they’re not shying away from having their backs up against the wall, as they do heading into Friday’s Game 6 against the Florida Panthers.
“When I got here, I don’t think there was any belief in the room that they weren’t a good hockey team,” Knoblauch added. “There was definitely a lot of frustration, and there should have been: they’re a good hockey team. Things weren’t working out at that time.
“They’ve been down and out, whether in a playoff series, going into the Dallas series, we weren’t expected to win that. Vancouver, we had two elimination games. We should’ve been finished then, so-called. Going into this series, even before the series started, we weren’t really expected to have much success. Certainly, going down three games to zero, it was all and out. It looked like we were done.
“But for our guys, I think they’ve been just enjoying the moment, having fun, trying to stretch out season out as long as possible. They’ve seen a lot of adversity, they’ve read it all, and now they’re just playing hockey. You’ve heard a lot of the players talk about how they play their best with their backs against the wall. That puts a lot of pressure on different teams. Sometimes you see a lot of players clamp up, not play their best because of the extra stress.
“Our guys have gone through it so many times, they’re just savouring the moment.”
Their backs have been against the wall for days now, managing to secure big wins in Game 4 on home ice, and another on the road in Game 5, dragging the Florida Panthers and their families back to Alberta.
But they’re not done yet.
Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner said Thursday his team’s goal is to win Game 6, and force them back to Florida.
“We absolutely wanted to bring them back to Edmonton, otherwise it would’ve been over for us,” he said. “Again, we want to do the same thing. We want to drag them back to their hometown in Florida.
“But it’s about taking it one day at a time. We got a really good practice in today and just prepared to play these guys tomorrow. It’s going to be a great task.”
Skinner himself has found another level in these playoffs, much like so many of his teammates. As the likes of Connor McDavid sets record after record after record, now hunting after Wayne Gretzky’s all-time single playoff point record, Skinner is quietly having a tremendous post-season.
While his numbers early in non-elimination games may not be the best, posting a 7-8 record, a .886 save percentage and 2.82 goals-against average, he’s elevated his game in elimination games.
In them, he’s going 6-0, posting a .928 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average.
“It starts with your best players,” said Knoblauch. “If your best players are going and playing well, everybody else follows.”
If the Oilers want to do what’s been done only once before coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the finals, they’re going to need everybody pulling on the same rope.
That means Connor. That means Stuart. And that means Leon Draisaitl, whose lack of offensive production is becoming hard to ignore. That being said, Knoblauch is looking at other areas of his game.
“You look at the points, the goals for, and so often you just look at those stat lines, ‘he’s not playing well,'” said Knoblauch. “Whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs, very similar to what I said after the first three games of this series. For our team, could be the same as what I’m going to say about Leon, the numbers don’t usually… tell the whole picture.
“You can play a game where, and I’ve seen it, guys are terrible, but everything lined up, whether there are bad mistakes from the opposition, the goalie was out of position, or your linemate did all the work and all you had to do was tap a puck in two feet. I’ve seen players get hat tricks and career games where the rest of it wasn’t very good.
“I think of Leon’s game right now, he’s been playing well. Has it been what it sometimes is, what it was against the L.A. series or other times during the playoffs? Maybe not quite, but it’s still been pretty good. He’s been doing a lot of good things for our team and just missing the goals and assists. That a lot has to do with the luck factor.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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