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The Day After +21.0: ‘If anyone can do it, it’s the Oil:’ Oilers remain optimistic despite 3-0 hole

Edmonton Oilers Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Finals
Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
The Edmonton Oilers are one loss away from the end of their season, and having to watch the Florida Panthers lift the Stanley Cup in their own arena.
But don’t tell them that. 
While the Oilers dropped Game 3 by a score of 4-3, they maintained a sense of belief that they could be the second team in Stanley Cup Finals history to return from a 3-0 deficit.
“We’re playing in June and that’s something to be very, very grateful for,” said goaltender Stuart Skinner. “At the same time… It’s disappointing being down 3-0, we’ve got to let that reality sink in.
“I’m not too sure what the stats are coming back on it, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Oil.”
There are major issues that need to be faced head-on for that to happen. For one, small, singular mistakes have cost the Oilers. 
A feverish first period from both sides saw the Oilers and Panthers trade chances, but nobody could break through until Sam Reinhart did with 1:02 left in the period. Evan Bouchard made a mistake at the Panthers’ blue line, not anticipating the Selke-level defence that Sasha Barkov plays with, who managed to get the puck out of Florida’s zone. Mattias Ekholm couldn’t bear down on Reinhart at the Oilers’ net, and the puck found its way into the Oilers’ net.
That’s one.
It seemed like the tide shifted early in the third when Foegele got a partial breakaway, ripping a puck past Bobrovsky. It seemed to shake the Panthers netminder, who began to cough up pucks and let rebounds out in front of him.
But it didn’t take long for the tide to shift back. Vladimir Tarasenko scored on a puck coughed up behind the Oilers’ net by Skinner, as Cody Ceci was unable to make the requisite play to squeeze Eetu Loustarinen.
That’s two.
Darnell Nurse coughed up a puck minutes later and Sam Bennett ripped a shot home.
That’s three.
Then, almost immediately after, Barkov walked into Edmonton’s zone on a two-on-one and fired a snap shot past Skinner.
That’s the dagger.
Three goals against in 6:19 and a 4-1 deficit seemed like an insurmountable mountain to climb, but the Oilers weren’t so ready to give up.
Edmonton came out in the third and pushed hard, resulting in Philip Broberg — a 22-year-old left-shot defenceman playing the right side — coming down that side of the ice, firing a puck that pinballed into the Panthers net. Then, eight minutes later, Ryan McLeod fought to the front of the net, tipping a Brett Kulak shot home past Bobrovsky.
The Oilers had life, but it was too little too late.
“I think there’s a lot of belief,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “You look at our season this year, and we had two eight-game winning streaks, we’ve had a 16-game winning streak.
“When things go well, we can really turn it up. I think we’ve shown that we can beat this team. I think there’s a lot of belief in that, it’s not like we’re getting outplayed and that team’s better than us. I don’t think there’s anything I need to say to the team and convince them otherwise.
“I think everyone in that dressing room feels the same way I do. We can string together a lot of wins, we’ve shown it. Obviously, the stakes are a little bit higher, we’re playing a better team than we were in the regular season, but I don’t think there’s any doubt in our room.”
Another major issue the Oilers need to confront is the fact their star players have been absent from this series, at least on the scoresheet. While Connor McDavid has three assists in as many games, two of which came last night, none of Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman or Connor McDavid have found the scoresheet. Evan Bouchard, meanwhile, has just one assist.
“They’re playing well, they’re making plays, and just the puck hasn’t gone in,” said Knoblauch. “You look at the stat line, you say ‘What’s going on, they’re not contributing.’
“They’re playing well, they’re playing hard, but like our team, especially for our top guys, the puck is just not going in. There’s only a matter of time you can keep those guys off the scoresheet.
“They’ve gone through their ups and downs through the regular season and during those regular season (games), they haven’t scored for short period times, but it wasn’t like they weren’t playing well. You think of Connor, I think it was February, when he was racking up all those assists.
“I kind of see that with our top guys. They’re playing well, they’re playing hard, there’s just an element of puck luck. The puck luck is ‘does it go in the net, or is the goalie making the save?’ You guys can decide on that. I think they’re doing everything they need to do.”
If the Oilers hope to make this a series, they’ll need that puck luck on their side.

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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