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Close, sort of, but no cigar

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Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
9 months ago
When you size up the match-up in the 2023 Stanley Cup final between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s fair to say the Edmonton Oilers stack up reasonably well against both teams based on what we saw this season.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, how they “stack up” doesn’t mean a damn thing because that’s not what earns teams a crack at playing for the silverware the Golden Knights and Panthers will be after when the Cup final series begins Saturday. That much we know. If you win three series, you play for the prize. Not one. Not two.
On the outside looking in again after getting swept in the Western Conference final 4-0 by the Cup champion Colorado Avalanche a year ago, the Oilers won three of four regular season meetings with the Golden Knights this season before bowing out in six games in the second round. This we know. All told the Oilers were 5-4-1 in 10 games vs. Vegas this season. The Oilers won 50 games and had 109 points, just two points back of Vegas.
The Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in the first round, handled the Oilers 4-2 in the second round and packed their bags for the Cup final by waxing the Dallas Stars 6-0 Monday to win their series 4-2. They belong in the final.
The Panthers, in the Cup final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping Carolina 4-0, upset the Boston Bruins in seven games and the Toronto Maple Leafs in five. They weren’t nearly as good as the Oilers during regular season, going 42-32-8 for 92 points to finish eighth. The Oilers beat the Panthers twice – 4-2 on November 12 and 4-3 in overtime November 28.

ALL THE MARBLES

Apr 14, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators players salute the fans after a loss against the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Of course, all of the above is silver lining stuff and close but no cigar material. Oilers fans are acutely aware there’s no trophy or parade for that. It won’t even get you a ham sandwich. It’s the first week of June and we’ve already done the post-mortem stuff around here – if the Oilers only got better goaltending, if they only would have . . . Sure. If my aunt had you-know-what, she’d be my uncle.
As for this edition of the Stanley Cup, the Golden Knights are back in the final series for the second time since making it in 2018, their first NHL season. They have to be considered the favorites even if the teams split two regular seasons meetings — the Golden Knights won 4-2 Jan. 12 and the Panthers prevailed 2-1 March 7.
With Sergei Bobrovsky and Matthew Tkachuk leading the way, the Panthers have scripted quite the underdog story to this point in the post-season and everybody loves one of those. Boston finished 43 points ahead of Florida. No problem. Toronto was 19 points better. See you later. Carolina ended up 21 points ahead. Adios. Will the Panthers have one more chapter in them when the puck hits the freeze on Saturday?
I don’t know about that, but we’ll find out soon enough. What I do know with absolute certainty is what team won’t be sipping suds. Nevermind.

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