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Panthers, Oilers face off in game 7 of Stanley Cup Final

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat that are at stake in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is next-level.

The routes both the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers have taken to reach the winner-take-all clash will take those emotions off the charts.

The Panthers play host to the Oilers on Monday night in Sunrise, Florida, on the heels of blowing a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.

The news

Only once in finals history has a team failed to close out the series when up 3-0, the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, who lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Conversely, the Oilers are not only looking to cap an incredible comeback in the same manner as those Maple Leafs, but they also risk becoming the second team in NHL history to erase a three-game deficit only to lose the finals in Game 7. (Coincidentally, it was the 1945 Red Wings who took that path and ended up losing to Toronto, again.)

The pressure is huge. Or is it?

“Game 7, at home, how could you not be so jacked up?” Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “This is an absolutely incredible, incredible opportunity. So, yes, you want to recognise or remember some of the good things that helped you beat these guys earlier in the series, but I’m trying to forget all of it. Just go in there and win one game. This is what it comes down to.”

It sounds simple, but the Panthers have failed three consecutive times to close out a series they appeared to have complete control of, and have done so in stunning fashion. Starting with an 8-1 victory in Game 4, the Oilers have outscored the Panthers 18-5 in the past three outings. Florida has not held a lead in any of those defeats.

Suffering a reverse-sweep loss with a shot at winning the first Cup in franchise history would be a painful experience on its own, but doing it in such an

Jun 21, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) during the warmup period against the Florida Panthers in game six of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place. PHOTO: REUTERS

inglorious fashion would be crushing.

The key for the Panthers will be not allowing the negative thoughts to paralyze their game.

 

“Game 6, there are a lot of options in your mind. Game 7, it’s one game and you just have to prepare yourself,” Florida forward Vladimir Tarasenko said.

“We still have another chance to win a Cup. You have to fix what you have to fix and come in with a positive mindset and believe in the guy next to you. This maybe sounds pretty simple, but it is what it is.”

The home team boasts a 12-5 record all-time in Game 7 of the finals but the road team has won the last three.

The Oilers are well aware they have the opportunity to make history by earning the franchise’s first Cup since 1990.

“We’re all human and we’re aware of what we’ve accomplished so far, but if you go past that, it comes down to one game,” Draisaitl said. “We have to focus on winning one hockey game on the road and play our best. Everything else, all the stories, will take care of itself after.”

That said, Edmonton’s skaters must not get ahead of themselves by thinking they are a runaway train that cannot be stopped.

Lineup change

Panthers coach Paul Maurice made a “solely hockey based” decision to put Kyle Okposo into the lineup Monday night. That leaves Nick Cousins on the bench. Cousins played in Game 6, his first appearance in the series. He played in 11 games over the previous three playoff series, notching one assist and nine shots with a minus-1 rating.

Okposo has two assists in 16 playoff appearances this season and is also minus-1. He played in the first five games against Edmonton.

“I just felt that looking back at the three previous games, Kyle had played slightly better. There are other options with Kyle, like how he comes off the bench in certain situations,” Maurice said, per ESPN. “It’s a difficult thing to do to take a Game 7 away from somebody. It’s such a rare thing, and Nick is so incredibly loved by his team.”

une 21, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) is checked by Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (7) and center Sam Bennett (9) in the second period in game six of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place. PHOTO REUTERS

une 21, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) is checked by Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (7) and center Sam Bennett (9) in the second period in game six of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place. PHOTO REUTERS

Cousins, 31, has played 592 games with six different teams over a 10-year career, scoring 71 goals with 109 assists.

Okposo, 36, is looking to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 17-year career. He spent nine seasons with the New York Islanders, followed by eight with the Sabres before landing in Florida. He has 614 points (242 goals and 372 assists) in 1,051 games.

“I grabbed my son today, who’s 8, and said, ‘You know what I was doing when I was your age? I was in the driveway with my Rollerblades on pretending I was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. How special is it you’re going to the game?” Okposo said Monday.

Key stats

–Road teams have won each of the past three Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Final.

–The Oilers have won six consecutive playoff series closeout games.

They said it

“You’ve got to prepare just like you always do. It’s not your ordinary game, everybody understands that, but you’ve got to make it as ordinary as possible in your head, and part of that is just sticking to your routine. Our room has done a great job of being at our best in big moments and I would not expect anything different.” — McDavid

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