Oilers Struggle in Stanley Cup Final Against Panthers

A Grim Statistical History

Teams that go up 3-0 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final have won 27 of 28 series. The only exception was in 1942, when the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to defeat the Detroit Red Wings. Of those 28 series, 20 of them ended in sweeps.

The Panthers are trying to get the broom out in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the Red Wings eliminated the Washington Capitals in four games in 1998. Even if the Oilers manage to send the series back to South Florida with a Game 4 win, 25 of those 28 series have ended in no more than five games. Despite the odds, the Oilers still believe.

Oilers' Current Struggles

The Oilers are now 0-5-0 against the Panthers this season. Edmonton did push in the third period Thursday, getting timely goals from Philip Broberg and Ryan McLeod to cut the Panthers' lead to 4-3. However, the critical takeaway from Game 3 was that the Oilers were down 4-1 entering the third period—on home ice, in a must-win game, against a team with a plus-15 goal differential in the final frame during the postseason.

Their undoing came in an embarrassing 6:19 stretch in the second period when Florida scored three goals. The Oilers had just tied the game at 1-all on a Warren Foegele breakaway goal. However, a turnover by Stuart Skinner allowed forward Eetu Luostarinen to find Vladimir Tarasenko, making it 2-1 and deflating the crowd at 9:12.

It was 3-1 at 13:57, as solid forechecking by Matthew Tkachuk helped force a Darnell Nurse turnover that Sam Bennett snapped into the net for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Aleksander Barkov capped the scoring for Florida at 15:31, converting a 2-on-1 chance that the Oilers allowed to start from deep inside their attacking zone.

The Stars Fail to Shine

The mistakes piled up for Edmonton, but the goals for their star players did not. Foegele, Broberg, McLeod, and Mattias Ekholm have found the back of the net. However, the five leading scorers in the playoffs—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and defenseman Evan Bouchard—have not scored.

Those five players also run the Oilers' power play, which has been powerless this series against the Florida penalty kill, which is 10-for-10. Edmonton's power play entered the series clicking at over 37%, best in the postseason. McDavid has hit the score sheet, with assists on three of the four Oilers' goals in the series. The Oilers star is on pace to become just the second player since 1967-68 to have a point on at least half of his team's goals in the postseason. The only other player to do that was Wayne Gretzky for the Oilers in 1988. The other players have yet to score a point in the Stanley Cup Final.

Taking Responsibility

Postgame, the Oilers' stars and coaches took responsibility for their performance.

"Yeah, it's very frustrating, of course. I pride myself on being good in the playoffs and playing well and just can't seem to get anything going. So yeah, I obviously have to look in the mirror and try to be better," said Draisaitl.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit today. Made some individual and collective mistakes that they immediately took advantage of," Draisaitl added.

"It is disappointing being down 3-0. We've got to let that reality sink in. I'm not too sure what the stats are on coming back in it, but if anyone can do it, it's the Oil," stated Stuart Skinner.

Coach Kris Knoblauch maintained optimism despite the dire situation. "I think we've shown that we can beat this team. I think there's a lot of belief in that. It's not like we're getting outplayed and we're just [saying], 'That team's better than us.' We can string together a lot of wins. We've shown it. I don't think there's any doubt in our room," he said.

"There's frustration that we're down, but there's a difference between frustration and quitting. There's absolutely no quit. There's a belief that we can do this, so we just need to keep pushing," Knoblauch added.

Reflecting on the game, Skinner noted, "After they got that second one, they just kind of got on a roll. We let them take that momentum and stride with it. They got two more quick ones. Just kind of silly mistakes that don't need to happen."

"We're a good offensive team. They're doing a good job, but we're still getting our looks. It's just when you're chasing the game for a big chunk of the night, it's hard to come back. It's a steep hill right now, obviously. No choice but to take it one game at a time. Try and get one win in Game 4 and go from there," concluded Draisaitl.