It's real and it's spectacular: Edmonton Oilers in Stanley Cup Final

Instead of the complete and dominant efforts the Oilers used to win Games 4 and 5, this time it was two first-period power-play goals and then 45 minutes of hanging on for dear life

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In one of the best riches-to-rags and back-to-riches comeback stories the NHL has seen in a long time, the Edmonton Oilers are going to the Stanley Cup Final.

A night that everyone dreamed of when the season began, and considered impossible just three weeks later, became a mind-bending reality with a wild, series-clinching 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars Sunday at Rogers Place.

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“There have been a lot of painful years that we’ve gone through, lots of learning along the way,” said playoff warrior Leon Draisaitl. “To be able to do it at home, for this city and these fans, and for ourselves as well, is a great feeling. It means a lot.

“But we also have bigger dreams and goals.”

Instead of the complete and dominant efforts the Oilers used to win Games 4 and 5, this time it was two first-period power-play goals and then 45 minutes of hanging on for dear life as Dallas swarmed them the rest of the night like a hive of angry hornets.

The shots were 12-3 Dallas at the first intermission, 21-8 at the second and 30-8 when Dallas closed it to 2-1 midway through the third — but Stuart Skinner kept the Stars at bay and nobody cares about the shot totals when you’ve just won a series.

In the end, the power play went 2-for-2, the penalty kill went 3-for-3,  Skinner was fantastic and Edmonton has a date with the Final.

“We got it done and that’s all that really matters,” said captain Connor McDavid, who had a goal and assist in getting the Oilers as deep as they’ve ever been in his nine years here.

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“This was always part of the plan, it always has been for this group. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, obviously, whether it be off-years or heartbreak in the playoffs, it was always part of the plan to be in this moment and the group has always stuck with. We’ve always believed in ourselves and in each other.”

McDavid Hyman Oilers Stars Game 6
Connor McDavid (97) and Zach Hyman (18) of the Edmonton Oilers, celebrate a first period goal against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton on June 2, 2024. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

In boldly going where no Oilers team has gone before (at least since 2006, anyway) the organization smashed through 18 years’ worth of glass ceiling and now stands four wins away from its first championship in 34 years.

There is still a long way to go. As tough as things have been so far, the steepest part of this climb is still to come. Standing between the Oilers and the summit is a powerful Florida Panthers team that’s back in the final for a second straight season after taking down Tampa Bay, Boston and the President’s Trophy-winning New York Rangers.

But Sunday night belonged to Edmonton.

After sinking to second last in the NHL and getting their coach fired in November, the Oilers were a long shot to even make the playoffs. So pulling their season out of that inexplicable and seemingly uncontrollable nose dive and pushing through to the fourth round of the playoffs makes this even sweeter if that’s possible.

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“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves but we still had belief in this room, belief in each other and in ourselves that we could get the job done,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the longest serving member of the Oilers rebuild. “It would have been easy to fold after that. You change coaches and you’re disappointed and it’s not going right. The easy thing to do at that point is quit on each other but there was none of that.

“I think it shows the character in this group.”

 In the end, it’s their calamitous start that probably got them here. Hitting rock bottom, realizing they had to be a lot better than they were, and then bringing Kris Knoblauch in to calm things down and set them on the right path might have been the best thing that ever happened to them.

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Stuart Skinner Corey Perry Western Conference Final
Goalie Stuart Skinner (74) of the Edmonton Oilers, hugs teammate Corey Perry (90) of the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton on June 2, 2024. The Oilers clinched the Western Conference title with a 2-1 win. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

They became comfortable with adversity, calm in the face of perceived hopelessness and true believers in what they could be capable of in May and June.

They came back from 3-2 down to Vancouver in the Vancouver series and from 2-1 down in the series and 2-0 down in Game 4 against Dallas, scoring 10 of the next 11 goals to win three games in a row and close out the Stars.

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“I think that’s a big reason why we are where we are today, how tight we’ve gotten as a group through the things we had to go through,” said Skinner, who was straight up better than celebrated Dallas counterpart Jake Oettinger. “It truly brings teammates closer together. We have an incredible brotherhood here.

“The adversities still haven’t stopped and I’m sure there are going to be (tough) moments in the final, but we’re prepared for that.”

They say it was their scar tissue that got them to the finish line on Sunday night, when the Stars were all over them.

“This year has felt like 10 years, to be honest,” said Zach Hyman. “You go into the year with the expectation that you’re one of the best teams in the league and you’re going to go to the Stanley Cup Final and all of sudden 15 games into the season you’re in second last and it’s ‘What happened? What’s going on?’

“To be able to battle back from that spot you build character and you build strength, mentally, to be able to handle situations later in the year. Whether you think at the time that it will or not, I think it does.’ And you’re able to play in moments like today when we’re getting absolutely shelled and it’s 2-1 with 10 minutes left.

“Maybe in another year we crack and they score, but not this year. Skinner stands on his head, we have guys throwing their body in front of pucks and it’s not the prettiest win but these are the games we hadn’t won in the past.”

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