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The Day After +25.0: The Oilers were right there

Edmonton Oilers
Photo credit:Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
20 days ago
There’s no sugarcoating the end of a season when your team doesn’t hoist the Stanley Cup.
It’s never easy to deal with whether you were the worst team in the league or the runner-ups, as the Edmonton Oilers were Monday night.
There are things to find solace in along the way. The Oilers were 3-9-1 when Kris Knoblauch took over behind the bench, and everyone wrote them off at American Thanksgiving when they sat 30th in the NHL standings.
They handled the Los Angeles Kings in five games, but had to go through each of the top-seeded teams from the Pacific and Central Divisions, the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars, finding new ways to win games against each of them. Then, they coughed up the first three games of the Finals once again finding themselves having to lick self-inflicted wounds. Their captain, Connor McDavid, led it, racking up three goals and 11 points in these finals, including back-to-back four-point nights in Games 4 and 5.
“It goes back to the character in the group we showed all year long,” said an emotional McDavid Monday night. “We showed all year long we could fight back, even in the most dire situations.
“Obviously it’s tough to be down three, and tough to string four in a row against a good team like that, but we were right there. Right there.”
After a timid first few minutes, the Panthers opened the scoring 4:27 into the game when Carter Verhaeghe tipped home an Evan Rodrigues shot. Mattias Janmark would respond for the Oilers a hair over two minutes later, taking a stretch pass from Cody Ceci and burying it past Bobrovsky.
Edmonton weathered a late push in the first, before building momentum off a power play that would carry them through the majority of the period. But it was all for naught as Sam Reinhart scored what would be the game-winning goal with under five minutes left in the third. This, mind you, seconds after the Oilers couldn’t convert on a chance down low in front of the Panthers crease.
No matter what the Oilers threw at Sergei Bobrovsky in the third, they couldn’t find a way to get one by him.
“They get a bounce on a goal, Bobrovsky stands tall in the third. We have our looks, we have our chances,” said Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “You can analyze it to death if you want to.
“At the end of the night, when somebody beats you in a seven game series they’re the better team. Good for them, but we were darn close and we’re going to be back next year.”
The war of attrition took its toll on the Oilers. Head coach Kris Knoblauch didn’t divulge any information Monday night after the loss, but both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been playing through significant injuries, Oilersnation has learned. McDavid has played through an abdominal injury that likely requires surgery, while Draisaitl has been banged up too, I’ve been told. He’s believed to be dealing with a broken rib and finger, the former of which suffered in Game 1 against Vancouver when he was hit by Tyler Myers. It’s nothing new for a laundry list of players to be dealing with injuries after deep playoff runs, and surely we’ll hear of more in the coming days.
Through it all, the Oilers never lacked a sense of belief even when down 3-0 in the series. Knoblauch spoke of the team having 10 more days left in their season, something they took full advantage of, even when the greater hockey world laughed at the comment.
But that never seeped into the room. Being around the team during Games 3, 4, and 6 at Rogers Place, you could tell just how loose this team had been. They knew what they were up against, but they never let the moment in front of them get too big.
The team has shown signs of growth over the last number of years, and it culminated when they were able to put it all together in these playoffs. They learned from getting swept by the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, from getting knocked out by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023, and from prior playoff appearances, too.
This team will be back, and this summer will be the shortest franchise and fanbase will have seen since 2006.
They’ll be back.

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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