Edmonton Oilers aren't dead yet, but they're running out of oxygen

“It’s supposed to be hard and I’m excited to see what our group is made of. I’m excited to see us fight through adversity and I’m looking forward to people doubting us again.”

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They were betting against the Edmonton Oilers when they sunk to 31st place in November and had to dump another coach.

They were betting against them when the Vancouver Canucks had a 3-2 series lead in the second round.

And they were betting against them in the third round when the Dallas Stars had them down 2-1 in the series and 2-0 in Game 4.

So forgive the Oilers if they don’t accept the generous funeral wreaths being delivered in the sobering wake of 3-0 and 4-1 defeats to open, and perhaps close, the Stanley Cup Final.

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They’d like everyone to know that they don’t die easily.

“We’re good with our backs against the wall,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, his 97 pressed firmly against the cold concrete after the troubling results at Amerant Bank Arena.

The brave faces help. And until the Panthers win a game on Rogers Place ice it’s too early to stick a fork in Edmonton’s season. But it does look kind of bleak, both visually and statistically.

The eye test Monday night was not good. The Oilers got it handed to them. Florida won the puck battles, choked out Edmonton’s offence and power play (not to mention Evan Bouchard) and posted another three-goal spread against a team whose previous six playoff losses consisted of four one-goal games and a pair of two-goal games with an empty-netter.

The battle between the best defensive team in the NHL and one of the most potent offences and power plays in the NHL hasn’t been close. Edmonton has one goal in six periods and their power play is 0-7.

Only three Oilers forwards even managed a shot on net over 60 uphill minutes in Game 2.

As bad as it looked on the ice, the math is even worse. Only five times in NHL history (in 54 tries) has a team ever come back from 2-0 down to win a Stanley Cup Final. That’s nine per cent.

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It doesn’t mean the Oilers only have a nine per cent chance of winning, only that their mission has a nine per cent success rate.

“It’s not ideal, obviously,” Zach Hyman said of the challenge ahead. “But now we have two games at home.”

If they can find a way to get back to their opening game speed and energy, the Oilers might have a chance.

The concern now is whether or not Florida will let them, because Game 2 is what a lot of Oilers fans were afraid might happen in this series. In fact, it’s what most hockey people predicted — in Pierre LeBrun’s poll of 33 NHL coaches and executives, 29 of them picked the Panthers.

So now we are left to wonder if this is the beginning of the end. Was Edmonton’s 32-18 shot advantage in Game 1 a case of Florida starting sluggishly after a week-long break. Is Game 2 closer to reality? Are the worst fears of Oilers fans about to be realized?

Are the coaches and executives right, that the Oilers had a hell of a season but nobody is stopping the Panthers this year?

Believe what you want, said McDavid, but he knows how dangerous this team can be when it’s down.

“It’s another opportunity for our group to come together and dig our way out,” he said. “It’s supposed to be hard and I’m excited to see what our group is made of. I’m excited to see us fight through adversity and I’m looking forward to people doubting us again.”

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Now it’s up to that Oilers patented resilience to get them back into the series. As we all know, they are at their very best when they are backed into a corner and their very best is good enough to beat anyone.

The problem is Florida. They don’t allow the other guys to be their best. The New York Rangers couldn’t get their offence going (two or fewer goals in five of the six games) and neither could the Boston Bruins (two or fewer goals in five of the six games).

It’s the same with the Oilers, who are 0-4 against the Panthers this year, have been outscored 17-5 and are 0-12 on the power play.

And, to make matters worse, Edmonton’s best weapons are jamming at the wrong time in these playoffs, even before the Florida series. Their vaunted power play has been blanked in eight of the last 11 games and instead of finding ways to win in the third period like they did in the regular season (13-4-2) they are 0-5 in games that were tied after 40 minutes.

It doesn’t look good. Can the Oilers use home ice advantage to claw their way back into the series and win four of the next five games, or will the Panthers keep them in this chokehold till the air runs out for good?

The numbers don’t lie, Edmonton’s mission has a nine per cent success rate, but maybe wait to see what happens in Game 3 before sending those wreaths. This is not the year to be betting against the Oilers.

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