Oilers vs Panthers: 10 Things to keep an eye on in Stanley Cup Final

Ten storylines to pay attention to in the Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Final series

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We’re still not sure you could find 10 random people walking through the giant Sawgrass Mills outlet mall, about five minutes from the Panthers home rink, who could name 10 Florida hockey players even if their home team is in the Stanley Cup final because the NFL and NBA has a bigger following in that neck of the world.

It’s not like here where Mattias Janmark’s mum was riding home with her boy after the Oilers knocked off Dallas in Game 6 Sunday and his wide-eyed Swedish mother was taking photos at every turn of Oiler-jerseyed, celebrating fans.

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Hockey in Canada is, well, hockey in Canada.

But, we’ve got the sun-belt Panthers with so many good pieces, an aggravating skilled aggregation against Canada’s Last Men Standing with the Oilers trying to break the 31-year Canadian team wins drought.

And, it could be a dandy series. It’s got the all-world Connor McDavid and buddy Leon Draisaitl for Oilers marquee NHL value against a very deep Panthers, back for a second kick at the cat in the Cup final after losing to Vegas last June.

One very nice sidebar: Zach Hyman vs Sam Reinhart.

Hyman has 68 goals this season (54 in league play and a playoff best 14) while Reinhart has 65 (57 in regular-season, eight in the playoffs). Five more goals for Hyman and he ties Jari Kurri and Reggie Leach for the all-time best 19.

Here’s some other things to look at:

Corey Perry of the Edmonton Oilers
Corey Perry of the Edmonton Oilers, against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Jan.27, 2024. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

1. Corey Perry

Nobody in history has been to five Stanley Cup finals with five different teams (Ducks, Stars, Lightning, Canadiens and now Oilers) than Corey Perry, and that’s thousands of players over 100 years.

But Perry is getting tired of watching the other team carry the silver mug around the ice after his one celebration as a 22-year-old in Anaheim in 2007.

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“Yup, 17 years ago,” said Perry, who was on top of the world, finishing second to Ryan Getzlaf in Ducks’ playoff scoring that year. “I waited 12 more years to get to a final and now, well, it’s four teams in the last five, so….” He’s the only guy from that Ducks team (three Hall of Famers—Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger) still playing.

2. Oilers penalty killing

Nobody’s named Elias on the Panthers, so maybe the Oilers run of killing penalties will keep rolling along at 28 in a row.

The last powerplay goal they gave up was in the last three minutes of the second period of Game 3 against Vancouver 10 games ago when Elias Lindholm kicked the puck up onto his stick in a scramble and around Skinner with Darnell Nurse in the penalty box—Lindholm’s second PP goal of the night.

Elias Pettersson also had a PP goal for Vancouver in round 2, the only three the Oilers have surrendered in 49 tries this post-season.

Oilers Head coach Kris Knoblauch
Head coach Kris Knoblauch of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 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

3. Maurice vs. Knoblauch

Paul Maurice has coached 130 NHL playoff games, and Kris Knoblauch 18  so, uh, advantage to the much-travelled (Carolina, Toronto, Winnipeg and now Florida) in a coach’s match-up to start this series if we’re going there.

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Knoblauch barely knows Maurice, but they ran into one another at the 2015 draft where McDavid went first, as we all lovingly know here.

“I actually interviewed for a job on Paul’s (Jets’) staff there. That, uh, was a pretty special draft (for the Oilers. I don’t know if I was ready,” said Knoblauch, who was coaching junior in Erie back then with McDavid as his top dog.. “Then when I got the assistant’s job in Philadelphia (to Dave Hakstol) I called up Paul for some advice.”

4. 2014 NHL Draft representation

This series is a first if we’re talking draft history.

Never have the top four draft picks in the same calendar year been in the Cup finals against one another. We’re going back to the 2014 summer draft in Philly when the Oilers called out Leon Draisaitl’s name at No. 3 with defenceman Aaron Ekblad going No. 1 to Florida, winger Reinhart No. 2 to Buffalo and centre Sam Bennett picked No. 4 by Calgary. They all posed for photos outside the Rocky statue in front of the Wells Fargo Arena.

Ekblad, Draisaitl, and Reinhart
Leon Draisaitl third overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers, Aaron Ekblad first overall pick by the Florida Panthers, and Sam Reinhart the second overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres pose during the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

Draisaitl is clearly the best of that crop with his Hart trophy, a scoring title and three 50-goal seasons, along with his 105 playoff points in 67 games.

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But there were no scouting swings and wild misses with any of these teenagers, although Reinhart, and the rambunctious No. 2 centre Bennett are on their second teams after one-sided trades in 2021 (Reinhart from Sabres for the 2022 first-round pick and goalie Devon Levi’s rights; Bennett, spinning his wheels in Calgary, for Emil Heineman and a second-round 2022 pick).

5. Forsling coming into his own

Three organizations blew it on Gustav Forsling, Florida’s defacto No. 1 D-man.

Vancouver drafted him in 2014 in the fifth round which seemed a steal when he made the U20, world junior all-star team a little later. But the Canucks traded him to Chicago for the more ready fellow D man Adam Clendening. Mistake No. 1. Then the Hawks dealt him to Carolina after 122 NHL games for the older blue liner Calvin de Haan, a journeyman today. Oops, No. 2.

The Canes tried to sneak him through waivers out of training camp in 2021 to keep Jake Bean and Florida grabbed him with Boom Boom Geoffrion’s grandson Blake, an amateur scout and former brief NHLer in GM Bill Zito’s ear promoting him. Error No. 3. Today, Forsling, 27, is a better fellow two-way Swede Jonas Brodin, if you’re looking for a comparable. “He kills more plays than anybody on our team,” raves Maurice.

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6. Barkov and McDavid go head-to-head

In the Vancouver series, the Canucks had a two-pronged centre matchup with J.T. Miller out against McDavid and Lindholm usually on Draisaitl if Oilers were going 1-2 in the middle.

Florida will almost surely go with Barkov, the best two-way centre (80 points regular-season, 57.3 percent on face-offs) in the game today now that Patrice Bergeron has retired against the best player in the world McDavid. A juicy matchup, although not as physical as Miller was on 97. Bennett and Anton Lundell may take turns against No. 29. Lundell has been the breakout Florida forward with his 12 points in 17 playoff games as 3C. He’s Barkov Lite, playing with Vlad Tarasenko and checking winger Eetu Luostarinen.

Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Florida Panthers
SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 01: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Florida Panthers and Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers come together during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena on June 01, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

7. The wall that is Bobrovsky

Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a few months from his 36th birthday, is an interesting cat (he never gets a haircut during the season).

He could be the third oldest goalie in over 50 years to be the starting tender for a Cup winner if Panthers beat Oilers and he’s given up two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 12 starts in these playoffs.

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As we’ve seen he’s almost unbeatable on shots along the ice with his quick legs. When the two-time Vezina trophy winner and finalist this season comes out for practices, Goalie Bob does these ballerina type moves while in his own little world, on one skate. He also has some maneuvers in the weight room that are his own, and gob-smack his teammates.

“Sometimes he walks on a wood stick, like a pole. It probably helps with his balance but none of us get it,” Carter Verhaeghe told reporters. Dominek Hasek (37 years old, Detroit, 2002) and Tim Thomas (37 years old, Boston 2011) are the other goalies older who took their  teams to the Cup.

8. Panthers powerplay no slouch

Florida’s multi-faceted PP has way more options than Dallas or Vancouver and especially Los Angeles.

In theory, they like to get it to their UFA (an eight x $9 million hometown discount contract offer coming from the Panthers) Reinhart in the high-slot for a one-timer, but they also feed fellow UFA Verhaeghe for one-timers. He’s their Draisaitl. Barkov is a distributor, and Matthew Tkachuk is their Perry net-front disturber, chewing on his mouthguard.

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You’ll see their second PP unit (Bennett, Lundell, Tarasenko, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Evan Rodriques) with a lot more work than the Oilers second unit, though, which might get 30 seconds at the tail-end.

Florida Panthers rats
A detailed view of fake plastic rats are seen on the ice after the Florida Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at FLA Live Arena on May 22, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

9. It’s raining rats

They’re still throwing plastic rats on the ice in Florida to celebrate W’s.

As we all know it started in October of 1995 when one-time Oiler winger Scott Mellanby saw a real, live, ugly-looking rat at the rink before a game, and killed it with a wild swipe of his stick. After scoring two goals, the Beezer, goalie John Vanbiesbrouck playfully called it a “rat-trick.”

The tradition was born with a plastic rat hitting the ice in the next game and throughout the Panthers improbable run to the 1996 finals loss to Colorado. It’s a nice tradition, and not as smelly as the octopus hitting the ice in Detroit or the catfishes smuggled into games in Nashville.

10. Ex-Oiler lines up on opposing side

Yup, that’s we-hardly-knew-ye onetime Oiler defenceman Dmitry Kulikov in the third Panthers pairing with OEL.

The Oilers traded for Kulikov, who has played for eight NHL teams (two runs with Florida) in 2021 for their top six when Kulikov was with New Jersey, giving up a fourth-round pick. It didn’t pan out. He played 10 league games and three of the four playoff tilts against the Jets that spring, a healthy scratch in one game. He signed a two-year deal with Minnesota that July, and the Wild traded him to the Ducks for the old future considerations (salary dump) after one playoff run in 2022.

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