Oilers coach on value of Stanley Cup Final experience: 'Ask the Buffalo Bills'

“The Stanley Cup Final is different,” said Knoblauch. “We just want our players to worry about playing the game”

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While the Edmonton Oilers roster is comprised almost entirely of Stanley Cup Final rookies, the Florida Panthers have already been there and done that.

Well, they’ve been there, anyway. They didn’t actually do it. They lost last year.

Still, they have a wealth of Cup Final experience and you have to wonder how much of an advantage that might be in the first crucial games of the series. Will they be able to get the jump while the Oilers are still trying to get acclimatized?

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Mattias Ekholm saw a team get starstruck in this exact situation before. He went to the 2017 Final with the Nashville Predators, taking on the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and they were down 2-0 before they even knew what hit them.

“We had a team that had maybe one guy who had seen a final before and we got off to a rough start, we lost both games on the road,” said the veteran defenceman.

“It’s almost like it took a game and a half to figure out that ‘Oh, we have to play hockey, too.’ It’s not just a big All-Star game or a showcase. That’s a lesson that I learned in that series.

“There is a lot of media and a lot of requests left and right but come 8 O’clock on Saturday night we have to be dialed in and ready to go because if you dip your toe in the water too long it’s over in a heartbeat.”

Mattias Ekholm
Mattias Ekholm (14) of the Edmonton Oilers and Jason Robertson (21) of the Dallas Stars shake hands after Edmonton beat Dallas 2-1 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on June 02, 2024, in Edmonton. Photo by Codie McLachlan /Getty Images

When asked if having Cup Final experience gives Florida an advantage early on, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch wasn’t willing to go there. Not when his team has shown show much grace under fire already this season.

“Experience is good,” he said, before adding that it’s not a secret weapon. “You can ask the Buffalo Bills how important Super Bowl experience is.

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“I think the biggest thing is having the confidence to play and our guys are playing their best. They should have a lot of confidence.”

Being able to shake off any stage fright and hit the ground running is imperative considering that since 1939, the team winning Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final went on to win the series 61 of 79 times.

So the Oilers will have to lean on the players they do have who’ve been here before — Ekholm, Corey Perry, Adam Henrique and Mattias Janmark.

“The Stanley Cup Final is different,” said Knoblauch. “There are more media requests and interviews, just more attention, more things in the papers. It’s good to have the guys who’ve gone through it all to settle everything down and make it feel like just a regular game.

“We just want our players to worry about playing the game. If you get too caught up in everything else that’s going on, guys can get distracted. Having guys who’ve been there before helps eliminate that.”

And it’s not like the Oilers haven’t been around the block a few times. They played eight playoff series and made it to two conference finals in three years, so even though most of them have never seen round four before, they know a thing or two about dealing with the moment, if that was ever a concern.

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Oilers Head coach Kris Knoblauch
Head coach Kris Knoblauch of Edmonton Oilers looks on during the second period against the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Western Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on June 02, 2024 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Leila Devlin /Getty Images

And after all they’ve been through this year, Ekholm is convinced they’re tough enough to withstand anything.

“When I got traded here last year we went on a run to finish the regular season and we didn’t really hit any adversity,” he said. “When we did hit adversity it was like ‘Oh, what’s this? We haven’t seen this for months.’”

They couldn’t handle the momentum swings against Vegas last year and dropped a series they were good enough to win. This time, Ekholm sees a steely resolve that he thinks will serve them well when the puck drops in Florida.

“We’ve done a really good job of not being fragile in these playoff series,” he said. “We had an emotional, tough loss in Game 1 against Vancouver but we didn’t let that linger, we got right back out there. Those early lessons in the year help you with that.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from last year, we’re not that fragile about things happening.”

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