The Charge Of The Oil Brigade

Whatever you believed about Edmonton’s outlook in the series entire after they dropped into a 2-0 hole against Florida, you had to think Game 3 was going to be their best opportunity to nab a win. Not only did they have the home crowd and the motivation of desperation on their side Thursday night, they also held another advantage in the Panthers’ struggle to fly from Miami to Alberta amid terrible rains in their region. But much like Game 2, after a first half that kept the outcome ambiguous, the Pants put together a cold-blooded run of goals to earn a 4-1 lead. Looking anything but disoriented or exhausted with the score 1-1, they pounced on a pair of Oilers’ defensive mistakes to quickly deposit the puck past Stuart Skinner, then watched their captain Aleksander Barkov glide seemingly effortlessly on a rush across the ice and finish a chance in a spacious slot. For Edmonton, this goal surely felt like the end of the world.

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But unlike in Game 2, the Oilers had some time to attempt a comeback from their three-goal deficit, and in the final period they acquired the first two pieces through a couple of serendipitous bounces made possible by pressure in the offensive zone. Those goals put the game at 4-3 with five minutes to go. The Oilers’ top forwards would have this tenuous patch of time to conjure one more, buy some breathing room, and avoid going bust. In the first minute after the ensuing faceoff, Florida comprehensively protected the dangerous spots and hot-potatoed the puck down the ice. Then the Oilers gathered for their charge.

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Leon Draisaitl and Ryan McLeod, attracting attention at the far boards as they entered the zone, found Connor McDavid with a bit of space in the middle. McDavid accelerated to the red line and sent the puck backward to McLeod on Sergei Bobrovsky’s doorstep. All McLeod could hit on his shot was the goalie’s left pad. Florida cleared.

McDavid crossed the blue line again and sent the puck deep. The Oilers pressured, cycled it back up top, and then found leading scorer Zach Hyman behind the net. Hyman had room to get right in front of Bobrovsky, but he couldn’t generate a direct attempt. Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard set up a one-timer that went wide, and the puck sailed out of the zone.

Warren Foegele, who had tied the game at one an eternity earlier, made the next entry attempt, but the Panthers quickly stymied him.

Connor Brown was last up. He held the puck wide left as he made his move, and he spotted Mattias Janmark streaking through the center. Brown lofted a long, almost weightless pass toward goal, and Janmark stabbed his stick out in front of him. But the puck bounced harmlessly into the corner. The Oilers wouldn’t even be credited with an attempt, and they wouldn’t create another for the rest of the game.

The screams from the crowd on these chances, compared to the silence at 4-1, is beautiful if it doesn’t make you too sad. Belief was tangible in that building. But Florida, rat bastards that they love to be, yet again were prepared for everything. In the final two minutes, despite Skinner leaving his net, they played safe and frustrating hockey that pinned the puck to the corners. The final 30 seconds were a masterclass in obstinacy, with Aaron Ekblad refusing to give an inch as he blocked a path to possession along the boards. Edmonton’s opportunity, quite possibly their last, had passed them by.

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A 3-0 comeback in a Final has been done once before, by the Maple Leafs in 1942. But the emphatic, unbreakable nature of Florida’s play all postseason leaves little space to imagine a legendary downfall. Game 3 was the dress rehearsal for a coronation. The Oilers’ final period was just a small protest outside.

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