Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers Game 1 | 06/08/2024

CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

That time off was the longest week of our lives, and it’s a continuation into the longest month of our lives. The vibes of 2006 have traveled to the year 2024. I’ve been playing Nickelback’s Saving Me at full volume all week long.

Before I started typing up this piece, I revisited some of my older articles from October and November when our Edmonton Oilers hit Rock Bottom, and the entire fanbase joined together in a chaotic frenzy of Hockey depression. Almost every article published in those first two months was just me ranting. I couldn’t help but cringe at every sentence or paragraph I was looking back on. They were a Bottom-two team in the league, but now they’re a Top-two team. Even making “Stanley Cup Finals” part of this article’s title feels bizarre. The job isn’t finished yet, but even the most optimistic fans can’t believe this is a reality. There’s a video online of Zach Hyman’s reaction on the bench as the clock was ticking down the dying seconds of Game 6 in Round 3. He did a very accurate impression of me, as I was also that pumped up. This franchise’s 18-year gap between the Final two appearances, with the majority of that time being a 10-year Playoff drought following a Cinderella run, feels much longer now than it already did. You can freely accuse Oilers fans of many things, but you can’t call them bandwagon fans. After they kept staying through the lows(AND THEY WERE VERY LOW), they’re finally seeing the highs. Stuart Skinner, Brett Kulak, and Ryan McLeod grew up being Oilers fans, especially during that magical ’06 run. And here they are now, playing in the Finals themselves with their boyhood team. Imagine being Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after all the awful seasons he skated through early in his career.

The most talented hockey player in the salary cap era and the best not to wear 99, 66, or 4 is only four wins away from having his name engraved on that big silver trophy. Beside him is, statistically speaking, the biggest Playoff performer of this generation. From their glove tap for comfort on the bench during an ugly November loss all the way to an embrace on the ice after winning the Western Conference, our Ride Or Die duo has also come a long way. With a moment this big, regardless of the results, I can’t picture them not turning it on in these last few games of the year.

Edmonton is one of two teams remaining in this NHL season. No matter how the series ends, 30 other teams and 30 other fanbases would trade their 2023/2024 season for ours. A Canadian team hasn’t won the Cup since 1993, and there have been six trips to the Finals by Canadian teams before this year. While potentially being the first to win in 31 years sounds cool, I don’t buy into that hype totally as much as others. You have to respect team rivalries if you’re a hardcore sports fan, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody can cheer for whichever team they want. I won’t hold it against anyone. Our team is our team, and their team is their team.

Fernando Pisani, an ’06 Oilers hero, said in an interview this week, “Every year when they hand out the Cup, I have to turn off the TV. It is too hard to watch. It was heartbreaking losing in Game 7. You never really get over it.” It hurts when you’re that close, which brings me to the next point.

I’m well aware Kris Knoblauch gave that Buffalo Bills soundbite when asked about Cup Final experience. You still can’t deny that the Florida Panthers will be as hungry as Edmonton, if not more, after their Cup Final loss just last year. Some Oilers players have Cup Final experience, too. It’s just that Florida’s is collectively more recent. Not that being 100% healthier means they’d have beaten the Vegas Golden Knights, but I don’t think they’d have lost in five games or gotten blown out in the 5th. Their most notable injury was Matthew Tkachuk’s broken sternum he played through in Games 3 and 4 but had to sit out with in Game 5. It’s the Playoffs, everybody is banged up, and I expect some Florida players to have some bruises. But I feel they’ll look different physically and not just on the listed lineup. This should be a really fun Cup Final, which, crazy enough, also includes all the Top four draft picks from the 2014 NHL Draft. The keys to the series are…

Old Frenemies: We get to hate Sam Bennett and the aforementioned Tkachuk again. Bennett was no longer in Calgary during the 2022 Battle Of Alberta, but he is still familiar with some of those Edmonton counterparts. Tkachuk and Evander Kane should get reacquainted and exchange, um… Pleasantries? Ben Stelter just came to my mind, and I remember when Matthew posted that video showing his support for him. It was a class act to put rivalries and Hockey aside. But now, up there, Ben is probably back in the Hockey spirit saying, “Tkachuk, WOOF!”

Meat And Potatoes: The Panthers are a big, physical team and strong on the forecheck. Expect a lot more hitting than usual in this series; Kane leads the Playoffs in that stat out of all remaining players with 62. I would expect Vincent Desharnais back in the lineup at some point in this series to match the physicality. According to a chart posted by the Jfresh Hockey Twitter account, Sam Carrick was third among Oilers players in 5v5 scoring chances created against the Dallas Stars. That is definitely a reason to reward him with ice time, but he’s also an overall more suited player for this series.

Serve The Cop Stu: Sergei Bobrovsky has been very good on the force and beat out a hefty goaltending competition in each of Florida’s last three Eastern Conference rounds. First, Andrei Vasilevsky, then Jeremy Swayman, and then Igor Shesterkin. Skinner had his good and bad moments in the first three rounds but came out solid in the end and outdueled Jake Oettinger. His .897 SV% isn’t as flattering as Bobrovsky’s .908 SV%, but don’t let his bad games early on overshadow his good games. Underneath those misleading stats is a resilient sophomore goalie who has proven that he can bounce back from growing pains well. He even had it in him to completely steal a Cup Final clinching game. On hockey’s biggest stage, he has the biggest test of his young career against a two-time Vezina trophy winner.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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