Why confidence more than momentum can help the Edmonton Oilers win the Stanley Cup: 9 Things

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In the seemingly perennial back-and-forth between Oilers and Leafs fans, the year “1967” is regularly thrown about.

But that old chestnut has at least temporarily been replaced with “1942”.

The only team in NHL history to have overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final and win it was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. That might become the few things that Syl Apps and Connor McDavid have in common.

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The 2024 edition of the toughest tournament in the word has come down to that, a single Game 7, after the Oilers stormed back from 3-0 a 3-0 deficit to the Florida Panthers.

Now, it is “winner take all.” But what gets the Oilers the rest of the way to the ultimate goal?

That and more in this edition of…

9 Things

9. I was glad to be back in Edmonton this week, taking in the buzz surrounding this Stanley Cup run and catching up with a few media colleagues. It especially struck me as I walked down 104th Ave to Rogers Place just how the Ice District project has transformed both the hockey club and Edmonton’s downtown. Would have that Game 6 even happened without it?

8. No matter what happens in Game 7 on Monday night, Kris Knoblauch is one of the great stories of this year. A rookie NHL coach arrives with his team at the bottom and guides them to the last game of the Stanley Cup Final. Would you not have to think the ownership of the New York Rangers is livid that its own management group wrongly assessed this guy? I mean…you had him and just let him go.

7. Speaking of which, will we see lineup changes for the Oilers in Game 7? I have been one of the people saying that when Evander Kane is healthy enough to be Evander Kane again, you put that guy back in. But I will admit that I am waffling on my stance. On one hand, I firmly believe that a healthy Kane makes you better. But on the other things have gone SO well for the Oilers. Ryan McLeod scored Friday. Dylan Holloway was +2. Derek Ryan went 78% on draws, etc. Do you dare screw with success?

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6. Over the first two rounds of the Edmonton Oilers playoff run I think Leon Draisaitl would have been the club’s best shot at the Conn Smythe. Evan Bouchard has even been mentioned. And into the final round, Connor McDavid’s name has risen to the top of the list (he is the odds-on favorite, win or lose come Monday). But if the club is able to come all the way back and win it all, does Stuart Skinner not get at least some consideration? In Games 4-7 of these playoffs Skinner is 10-0, his GAA 1.50, his SV% .940. Are you in Game 7 without him?

5. The Coach’s Challenge on what would have been the 2-1 goal on Friday night was the turning point of that game. I admit it was by a razor-thin margin. But who cares how close it was? That is largely immaterial. Those who did not like the call are missing a critical fact. The offside is one of the most black-and-white calls that exists in the game. Many Canadians learn the rule when we are 5: Did the man proceed the puck into the zone or did he not? Well…yes, in this case he did. Nowhere does it read “But it’s o.k. if its just by a little bit”. I will add this: It took some big, brassy ones for Kris Knoblauch to make that call. And a lot of belief in his PK units.

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4. I have a lot of respect for the work of hockey writer Frank Seravalli. First, Frank is more than willing to put in the work to operate at such a high level. The really good ones work at it. But Saravalli also has the valuable gift of being able to clearly see things for what they are, as opposed to how the general public may perceive them to be. For example, I have written in this space just how good of an acquisition Adam Henrique was. Henrique is so smart and capable in all three zones and in all situations. And as Frank pointed out Friday, Henrique now has two goals in this Stanley Cup Final. And both were winning goals. That is why the club went out and got him. Ken Holland faced some criticism for his deadline work. But the bottom line is that Holland’s bet on Henrique has already paid off handsomely.

3. Special offensive players see things that you and I cannot. Their instincts exist on a higher level. They have a unique vantage point. That is why any coach worth his salt will trade a little bit of defence for a guy that is great at the hardest thing in the game: Score. While you want them to grow into well-rounded performers, you should not try to turn those guys into Rod Langway or Doug Jarvis. I mean that with all due respect to both of those men. Terrific players each of them with excellent legacies. And you need those kinds of pieces on a team to win. But it is also far easier to find that type of player. What makes the truly gifted ones such precious gems? What they are the absolute best at what also happens to be the hardest to do. It is what makes them elite. That brings me to Evan Bouchard and Leon Draisaitl.

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2. One of my very few quibbles with Evan Bouchard has often been with how much or little intensity he defends with. I can stomach honest mistakes for reasons stated in the previous paragraph. Hockey is a game of mistakes. But Evan Bouchard’s intensity level has elevated by several notches this post season. It now shows in the sterling play we are seeing from him in his own zone. Bouchard is even pushing guys around, the most recent example being the Stenlund hit on Friday. Not sure we thought we would ever see that. And Bouchard’s offece speaks for itself. As for Leon Draisaitl, he had a fantastic two-way effort Friday. Two plays stood out. One is the obvious, sublime saucer pass to Warren Foegele on the 1-0 goal. Now there is a perfect example of the afore-mentioned guy (Leon) who is great at the very hardest of things. Yet I also admired the less flashy Leon Draisaitl on the Ryan McLeod empty netter. Draisaitl wins a race to the puck and then takes the hit along the wall in his own zone in order to make a defensive play that helped salt the game away.

1.The last time the Edmonton Oilers had a chance to win the Stanley Cup was Game 7 of the final in 2006. I was living in Edmonton then. So, like you, I understand how that kind of thing may only come around every 18 years or so. Rarely, a special team may string a couple of cup wins together. But in today’s salary cap era doing more than that is damn hard. So, as the great Stevie Winwood once sang, “while you see a chance take it.” It is the lifetime opportunity that most of these athletes dreamed of as kids while skating on the backyard rinks many of us also did when we were young. These players have spent their entire professional careers not just trying to attain those dreams but to even have a stab at it. As a result, I expect the Oilers to play their best game of the season on Monday. But I would not at all be surprised if Florida brings it, too. Both clubs understand how close and yet how far away they are from their ultimate hockey goal.

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Is there a favorite going into Game 7? I am not sure there is. Edmonton is on a major league roll. And that can easily feel like destiny. But I am not a big believer that momentum carries over much at all in the playoffs. There can be so many inflection points in any single game. There is so much that you do not control. If the Oilers do not hit the ice Monday night and create their own momentum it will matter not a whit whether they have won their last three elimination games. They will be in big, big trouble. But if they dictate the pace I am not sure Florida can beat them at that game.

What I do believe in, though, is confidence. Confidence breeds success. And that is more likely to be the big difference maker in Game 7 for either squad. Confidence can port from one night to another. And the Oilers have displayed loads of that over the last three games.

Heading into Monday, all these players on both sides may be saying the right things.

The Edmonton Oilers look confident and loose when they do so.

But the Panthers, on the other hand? Look shook.

Drop the puck.

Now on Threads @kleavins. Also, find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and Mastodon at [email protected]. This article is not AI generated.

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