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Pressure Shifts Back to the Panthers

We have ourselves a series once again!

A week ago, the Edmonton Oilers looked dead in the water. They had just dropped their third straight game in the Stanley Cup Finals to go down 3-0 to the Panthers, and most fans (outside of their own) were ready to write them off for good. Now, however, we find the series heading back to Edmonton for a massive Game 6 after two momentous wins from the Oil. Behind the absolute willpower of Connor McDavid, a revived powerplay, and a surprising amount of production from the bottom six, the Oilers have completely flipped the script on Florida and put all the pressure back on the Panthers. Of course, Matthew Tkachuk and company still need to win just one of the next two games, but as they get ready for Game 6, the threat of a historic reverse sweep has quickly become very real. 

What Changed?

Just by looking at the box scores, it’s clear that the Oilers have opened the floodgates offensively in the last two games. After beating Sergei Bobrovsky just twice in the first eight periods of the series, the Oil have completely bounced back with a total of 15 goals scored in the last seven periods. Not only are they scoring a lot, but they’re also scoring in different ways. In their last two wins, Edmonton has two short-handed goals and three powerplay goals while holding Florida scoreless on the man advantage. They’ve definitely figured something out when it comes to scoring on Sergei Bobrovsky and getting through the Panthers’ strong defensive structure, and it’s time now for the Panthers to make the adjustment.

We’d also be fools not to mention the play of Connor McDavid. ‘McJesus’ has reached a new level in the last two games, becoming the first player in NHL history to record back-to-back four-point nights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Without a fully healthy Leon Draisaitl by his side, McDavid is having himself a truly remarkable Finals and is now the Conn Smythe favourite for good reason. Hockey is in no way a one-man game, but Connor is doing just about all one guy can do for his team right now. 

On the other end of the ice, Stuart Skinner deserves some recognition as well. Skinner is still yet to lose a start after a Game 3 in the postseason, and his stats in the second half of every series have been fantastic. Heading into the Finals, he was certainly looked at as the weaker goaltender, but in both Edmonton wins, he’s been noticeably better than Sergei. If the offence and Skinner can both continue to do their jobs in Game 6 in front of what should be a ROCKING home crowd, it’s tough to see this one not going back to Florida for one final game.

The Panthers

Head coach Paul Maurice has been quick to downplay the stress that Florida is suddenly under, but it’s hard to imagine the threat of losing three straight and going home for Game 7 isn’t in the back of their minds already. The reverse sweep has only happened four times in NHL history, and if the Oilers were to come all the way back, it would be the first time it’s happened in the Finals since 1942. Despite all that, though, the Panthers are remaining confident. Every one of their players would have taken being up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals at the beginning of playoffs, and although it’s been a different journey to get here, Florida has already erased both the Bruins and Rangers in six games as well.

Even in a loss as deflating as the one they took in Game 5, there are still some positives for the Panthers to take from it heading back to Edmonton. Most importantly, Matthew Tkachuk easily played his best game of the series. The Panthers’ emotional leader was all over the ice on Tuesday, grabbing a goal and an assist on four shots in just over twenty minutes of ice time. Florida has been missing his presence a little in this series, and performances like that will give the team a much better chance of lifting the Cup. 

Another guy they’ll need back on his game is Sergei Bobrovsky. After starting the series off so well, Bob has looked mediocre in his last two outings. Now, maybe the Oilers have figured something out or maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, but either way, Florida’s goaltender needs to be better. He absolutely has the ability to steal games for the Panthers, and at this point, he only has to do it once more. Psychologically, I don’t think Florida has to worry about Bobrovsky. He’s just got to go do it to the very best of his abilities for sixty minutes one more time. 

Game Six

We can’t wait for Game 6. This series may have looked ugly early on, but the heat has officially turned up and the pressure has shifted. Originally, we were saying that a series is never over until a team loses at home. Connor McDavid and the Oilers have reminded us, though, that a series really isn’t over until the handshakes. Will the scrappy, never-say-die attitude of the Oilers propel them all the way back to a Game 7 in Florida, or will this ride finally come to an end in front of their proud fans on Friday night at Rogers Place?

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