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Random Thoughts: Oilers vs. Panthers for the Stanley Cup

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
baggedmilk
1 month ago
The Oilers are only a couple of days away from starting their Stanley Cup Final journey, and that has a few random thoughts rolling around in my head that I could use your help with figuring out.

THE PANTHERS ARE GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT

Listen, the Oilers’ opponent in the next round is one that is back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season. The Panthers become the second team in the last 40 years to lose in the final and return for another chance the following season. The one before that? It was in 1983 and 1984 when the Oilers lost to the New York Islanders one year and then topped them in five games the next for Wayne Gretzky’s first Cup the very next.
The point is that the Panthers will not want to make it all the way back to the Cup Final and feel the pain of losing again. They’re going to be the most intense opponent the Oilers have faced, and they’re going to offer the most significant physical challenge our squad has seen yet. That said, the Panthers have not faced an opponent like Edmonton, either. While there’s no doubt that Sasha Barkov is the premiere shutdown centreman in the NHL, it’s not unfair to say that dealing with Connor McDavid is different than handling Mika Zibanejad.
Either way, this series will be intense from the moment the puck drops in Game 1 until it wraps up with a winner, whenever that may be. Even with all the noise from outside markets/media suggesting that the Oilers don’t have a chance, it reminds me of the same messaging we heard about how the boys didn’t have a chance against the Stars in the Western Conference Final. And just like they did against Dallas, I hope the Oilers embrace that underdog mentality and do everything humanly possible to silence the haters again.

SPECIAL TEAMS NEED TO BE SPECIAL

The biggest advantage the Oilers have right now is their special teams. If we’re going to get our share of chances with the man advantage, the boys will need to a) keep the pedal to the floor early and often, b) ignore the post-whistle nonsense that the Panthers will surely try to lure them into, and c) keep killing penalties. If they can do those three things, I think that the Oil will get more power play chances than they did in the last round, and that’s a result that could be bad news for Florida.
One of the biggest issues I’m thinking about is how the Oilers will maintain their composure against a Panthers team that will do everything they possibly can to get Edmonton off its game. They had the Bruins so rattled that David Pastrnak felt the need to drop his gloves and lose a fight against Matthew Tkachuk when anyone who remembers his time in Calgary would tell you that the best thing you can do is ignore him. Guys like that poke the bear every chance they can, and it will be crucial for the Oilers to shut out the noise and keep doing their thing.
I watched three and a half of the six games against the Rangers, and the thing that stuck out to me most was how aggressive Florida is on both sides of the puck. The Rangers struggled to deal with that puck pressure and their ability to turn defence into offence, and it’s going to be incredibly important for Edmonton to support each other with clean passing options. Puck management will be paramount to winning this series, and as far as opponents go, Florida is easily the most aggressive we’ve seen on this playoff run. Put another way, they’re the complete opposite of the Kings’ boring trap.

ANOTHER DANCE WITH MATTHEW TKACHUK

It’s kinda funny to think about how the Florida Panthers will be the fourth consecutive team the Oilers have faced that featured a former Flame in a prominent position. Against the Kings, it was David Rittich in net trying to save their season. Didn’t work. The Canucks had Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm try to stop Edmonton’s chance at glory, but they, too, failed. Chris Tanev, who reportedly chose Dallas over the Oilers at the deadline, couldn’t stop our boys for the second time in as many playoff attempts.
Now, Matt Tkachuk stands in our way like some kind of final Flames boss, and the Oilers will need to be aware every time he’s on the ice. Over and above being generally annoying, Tkachuk impacts the game all over the ice. He hits, scores, is solid at stripping the puck, and has a lot more backup around him than when he was playing with Calgary two years ago. Florida is a much better team than the Flames were (are), and you know he’s going to be motivated to make good on last year’s Cup Final loss and the B.O.A. dummying from two years ago.
Unexpectedly, Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers in playoff points with 19, but that comes with only five goals. The point here is that there’s room for a turtle heater to kick off if the Oilers don’t respect what he can do. Even with only five goals, two of them are game winners, and I’m expecting Chucky to be dangerous more often than he is not. Either way, the Oilers will need to make it four series in a row, where they get through former Flames and reach the next step on the path to glory.

WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?

All I know for sure is that this is the most excited I’ve been for the Oilers to play hockey since Connor McDavid first pulled on the jersey. This whole season has been a journey unlike any other, and now we’re only four wins away from capping it off with hockey’s ultimate prize. Even though it’s only a few days away, the wait still feels like forever.

BETTER LAIT THAN NEVER

Fresh podcast! With the Oilers headed to the Cup final, I’m cranking out content to keep my mind busy, and that meant a very exciting episode of Better Lait Than Never.

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