Backs Against the Wall: Oilers Face the Ignominy of a Stanley Cup Sweep

For the umpteenth time, McDavid's Oilers find themselves in dire straits

June 14, 2024 9:12 pm
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers skates on the ice prior to the start of the game against the Florida Panthers in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final.
NHLI via Getty Images

The current Edmonton Oilers are the comeback kings of the NHL. With their rocky season start, narrow playoff victories over Vancouver and Dallas, and slow march towards the Stanley Cup, they have hobbled every step of the way, scraping towards the end with tremendous grit and raw talent. After last night’s 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, they find themselves pinned against the wall once more, a single defeat from the end of the 2023/24 season.

Naturally, in the twilight hours of the Oilers’s Cup run, all eyes are on captain Connor McDavid, an eight-season NHL vet often called the most skilled player in hockey. McDavid made his Stanley Cup debut last Saturday, as Edmonton took a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers. In Game 2 he recorded a single assist, aiding Mattias Ekholm for the Oilers’ only goal of the night (final score 4-1). Given those deficits, it’s important to acknowledge the talent of Florida’s Sergie Bobrovsky, an iron-wall goaltender with a save rate of 91.5% across his 58 games this season. “Their goalie played outstanding,” said Oilers titan Zach Hyman in a post-game interview Tuesday. “Sometimes you run into a hot goalie, and that was the case in the first game.” 

In match 3, McDavid seemed to find his groove, posting two assists on the way to a 4-3 Oilers loss. Still, with no reprieve from the three-game slaughter, the attitude in Edmonton has grown grim: “The offense can’t get to the net, the defense can’t keep them away,” wrote OilersNation Friday. “They are all out of losses to try and figure it out.” Besides their slow start and poor matchup against Bobrovsky, the Oilers have proved to be a team lacking depth. In addition to McDavid and Hyman, Leon Draisaitl and assistant captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rank as two of the highest scorers in the tournament. The excitement of this stat pales instantly at the realization that half of the Oilers’ remaining attackers have posted three points or less across the entire playoff season.  

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Beyond that, the entire Edmonton squad has been plagued “by the most mundane of mistakes.” In last night’s game, a dominant offensive performance (the Oilers led Florida in shots 35 to 23) was betrayed by a slew of unforced blunders. In the first period, McDavid lost his check, granting the Panthers’s Gustav Forsling a free shot on net. In the third, a sloppy maneuver from defenseman Darnell Nurse granted perennial weapon Matthew Tkachuk an easy steal, setting up the Panthers’s third goal of the night. 

For long-time fans of Edmonton, the state of this tournament should feel eerily familiar. That’s because four decades ago, a 22-year old Wayne Gretzky was making his Stanley Cup debut with the Oilers. Like this final, the ‘83 Oilers’s first match was a shutout — an 0-3 loss to the Islanders despite dominant offensive gameplay. They went on to lose three more games, handing New York a full sweep and their fourth consecutive Cup. Like McDavid, Gretzky was a league phenom who hadn’t quite mastered endgame hockey — in the four games played between Edmonton and New York, he didn’t score a single goal. And yet, witnessing the effort it took to win invigorated him: “if it wasn’t for the New York Islanders […] I don’t know that we ever would have won the Stanley Cup,” he told Youth Inc. last year. “We learned both on the ice and off the ice what it took to be a champion.” Those Oilers went on to win five of the next seven tournaments, one of the most dominant runs in NHL history.

With three games and three losses logged against the Panthers, McDavid’s Oilers seem impossibly far from their sixth franchise Cup. They’ve been pummeled, beaten and pushed to the brink of elimination. Admittedly, there’s a high chance they lose Game 4 and their season ends in shambles. But who cares? We’re witnessing the dawn of a potential dynasty in Edmonton. Like Gretzky said, and a hundred thousand businessmen quoted: “Skate to where the puck is going” and forget about the monstrous Bobrovsky in front of the net.

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