Desharnais in for Ceci; Knoblauch tweaks Oilers blueline ahead of Game 2

“But I’m not here just to come to the Final. I want to win and I have a job to do tonight. I will enjoy it, but I’ve got to stay dialed in and be sharp.”

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SUNRISE, Fla — Kris Knoblauch is a full-time coach and a part-time chess master.

He’s got his team to the Stanley Cup stage and he keeps moving pieces around the board.

Knoblauch’s latest move, in concert with his defence coach Paul Coffey is to swap Cody Ceci, who has never been a healthy scratch in his three seasons with Edmonton for Vincent Desharnais for Game 2 against Florida.

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Ceci, who has two Game 7 winners (against Los Angeles in 2022 and Vancouver this spring) on his Oiler playoff resume, -7 through his 19 games this spring. So he’s out and Desharnais is back in..

Based on the Panthers continued physicality (the NHL stats people said they had 63 hits to the Oilers 34 in Game 1) and the fact that Ceci was on the ice for both Florida goals with partner Darnell Nurse in Game 1, Knoblauch chose to push another button. Desharnais originally took a seat for Philip Broberg after Game 3 of the Dallas playoff series and he’s been terrific while Desharnais sat for four straight.

What was that like for Desharnais, who played the first 15 post-season games.

“It’s sucks,” he said, with a hearty laugh.

“But this is why we’re here now (Stanley Cup Final), it’s because everybody accepts their role and roles are changing, whether it’s Corey Perry who has played 1000 games or me who has played a little over 100. We’re trying to win the Stanley Cup,” he said.

Desharnais has played with Nurse before, so it’s not a big deal.

“Twin Towers,” said  the 6’7” Desharnais, who makes Nurse at 6’4” seem small.

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“Two pretty long sticks, and when we work together, we communicate well, and we make a very good pair. We’re hard to play against and we try to be as physical as possible,” he said.

Considering the long and twisting road Desharnais has taken to get this far — seventh-round draft pick, coming up 28 years old — getting his first shot at playing in a Stanley Cup Final is a journey well-travelled story.

“It’s definitely something I’m proud of,” he said. “I’ve had my moment to enjoy it, sinking in after Game 6 against Dallas (when they qualified for the NHL’s biggest stage). I talked about it with my family, my friends, and it was really cool to talk about it.

“But I’m not here just to come to the Final. I want to win and I have a job to do tonight. I will enjoy it, but I’ve got to stay dialed in and be sharp,” he said.

Cody Ceci
After playing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton Oilers defenceman Cody Ceci (middle) will come out the lineup in favour of Vincent Deharnais for Game 2 of the series on June 10, 2024. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

Nurse, who’s clearly had his struggles going -15 through the first 19 Oiler playoff games with some trouble off the rush, has played with Ceci in regular-season and throughout the playoffs for large chunks of the last three years. He’s had three different partners this the post-season — Ceci, Desharnais, and during the Dallas series with the left-shot Brett Kulak moving over to right with Kulak uncomfortable on his off-side.

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Desharnais is strong at breaking up a cycle with his massive size and reach, and very physical. Maybe playing heavy minutes against Florida’s second-line forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett will be a thing to watch for Desharnais in Game 2, though.

“Ceci is such a big part of this group, he’s such a big part of why we’re here,” said Nurse. “He’s been such a good player for us for so long and that confidence can’t waver because we’re going to need him again.

“Vinny? He’s obviously got the long stick, he plays aggressive, he’s very good defensively, there’s good communication. We’ve played together a little bit over the course of the playoff run and regular season,” said Nurse.

“We have a good feel for each other and we’re very effective out there when we’re on our game.”

We’ll leave the last word to Knoblauch

“Vinny’s an excellent, capable person. He can move the puck out, he’s a big defender and we’ve inserted new bodies and new life throughout the playoffs and it’s paid off,” he said.

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