Edmonton Oilers defeat Panthers 5-1 to force Game 7 in Stanley Cup final

By Kelsey Patterson

The Edmonton Oilers have done the improbable and forced a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final.

The Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-1 in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton Friday, their third consecutive win to level the best-of-seven series.

Edmonton improved to 5-0 when facing elimination this postseason.

“We’ve been in it a bunch,” said Zach Hyman, who scored Edmonton’s third goal of the game and his 16th of the playoffs. “I mean obviously the moment gets bigger every game we go further, but it’s just another elimination game where our backs were against the wall. Obviously the crowd was unbelievable getting it started.

“But we’re comfortable playing in these games. I think we’ve proven we can play in them. We’ve played in a bunch of them.”

Warren Foegele, Adam Henrique, Hyman, Ryan McLeod and Darnell Nurse — the last two in empty nets — scored for the Oil. Stuart Skinner made 20 saves and added an assist.

Aleksander Barkov replied for the Cats, which got 16 stops from Sergei Bobrovsky.

The winner-take-all Game 7 is Monday in Sunrise, Fla. – a clash that looked unlikely a week ago when the Oilers fell behind 0-3 in the Stanley Cup final.

“This is what we’ve all played for for our whole lives,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was drafted by the Oilers in 2011. “An opportunity like this, I’m excited. I want to get it going, for sure, and just get on the ice Monday. It’s certainly what we play for.”

“It’s a dream come true to be in this position and I couldn’t be more proud to do it with this group.”

—Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Edmonton wants to become the fifth NHL team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series, with only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs accomplishing that feat in the Stanley Cup final. The Oilers are looking to join them, and end Canada’s 30-year Cup drought in the process.

For the third game in a row, the Oilers got off to a good start. A Panthers turnover in the neutral zone led to Leon Draisaitl racing down the ice. He found Foegele with a perfectly weighted saucer pass, and the winger lifted the puck past Bobrovsky at 7:27.

Draisaitl has faced criticism during the final — self-criticism as well — for his play. He was left without a point in four of six games this series. His teammates came to his defence on Friday night.

“He’s one of the best players in the world and done so much for this team throughout the year, for this organization since he’s been here,” Nurse said of Draisaitl. “He’s always showing up at the biggest moments. You look at all of his playoff performances, he’s one of the best to ever do it. He was huge tonight.”

“You just knew he was going to respond,” added Hyman. “I don’t think he’s playing poorly or anything like that, at all. I think he’s playing well. Leo puts such a high standard on himself and he’s a huge driver of this team. He’s his biggest critic. I hope he feels good about his game because everybody else does. He got us started with an unbelievable play and I thought he was solid the whole night.”

Edmonton, which outshot Florida 11-2 in the first period, improved to 13-5 this postseason when scoring first.

Wanting to outdo Draisaitl’s perfect saucer, Mattias Janmark pulled off one of his own just 46 seconds into the second period, finding Henrique on a 2-on-1 on a bad change by Florida.

Controversial coach’s challenge: ‘We’ll bring in the CIA’

It looked like the Panthers got one back 10 seconds later when Barkov beat Skinner, but the call on the ice was overturned for offside — by the smallest of margins — after a bold Edmonton coach’s challenge.

Florida coach Paul Maurice was visibly upset with the officials’ decision.

“It may well have been offside,” Maurice said after the game. “The linesperson informed me that it was the last clip that they got where they made the decision that it shows it’s offside. I don’t have those.

“So I was upset after the call based on what I see at my feet, what my video person looks at. There was no way I would have challenged that if it was reversed. There was no way I thought you could conclusively say that was offside. I don’t know what the Oilers get, I don’t know what the league gets, I just know that if I would have had to challenge that based on what I saw, I would not have challenged.

“I’m not saying it’s not offside. We’ll get still frames, we’ll bring in the CIA, we’ll figure it out. But in the 30 seconds that I would have made that call, I would not have challenged.”

Florida ramped up the pressure after that disallowed goal but Skinner was up to the challenge, stopping all 11 pucks fired his way in the middle frame.

With time winding down in the second, a blocked shot by Evan Bouchard saw the puck pop out of Edmonton’s zone toward empty ice. A streaking Hyman jumped on the loose puck on a breakaway, evaded the stick of a backchecking Gustav Forsling, and went forehand-backhand on Bobrovsky’s blocker side for the 3-0 Oilers lead.

The Panthers refused to go down quietly. Barkov made things interesting with a goal 88 seconds into the third period, coming across the net as Oilers players fell to the ice around him, going around Skinner to score his eighth of the playoffs.

A big penalty kill by the Oilers with Derek Ryan in the box for high sticking kept Florida within two goals.

“The guys are just battling really hard,” Skinner said of Edmonton’s dominant penalty kill in the playoffs. “Us being able to win the faceoff on the first draw and being able to get it out is a big help. We’re doing a really good job on our forecheck. We’re keeping guys to the outside in the neutral. When they do get their chances, we get big blocks.

“We got a really good flow going right now. We’ve gotten a lot of opportunities on the PK, so for us to have that chemistry has been great. We have to do that for another game.”

The Panthers rolled the dice and pulled Bobrovsky with more than three minutes left on the clock. The Oilers quickly made them pay, scoring back-to-back empty-net goals 12 seconds apart. Skinner was instrumental on the second one, making a big save before feeding Nurse.

The series was back in Edmonton in large part thanks to Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who became the first player in league history with consecutive four-point games (Games 4-5) in the final. He was kept off the scoresheet in Game 6.

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