Edmonton Oilers still have one more mountain to climb

The Edmonton Oilers have done what seemed impossible back in November and made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but one more difficult challenge still awaits them.
Dallas Stars v Edmonton Oilers - Game Six
Dallas Stars v Edmonton Oilers - Game Six / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages
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NB - Please note this article was originally post on June 3. However, due to some technical difficulties, it is now being reposted.

There was a query raised on Saturday by NHL Trade Talk, about if the Edmonton Oilers would be better off than the Toronto Maple Leafs, if they failed to win the Stanley Cup this season? It's an interesting query, but one that doesn't need answering just yet, at least not for another four games.

Say it out loud - the Edmonton Oilers are going back to the Stanley Cup Final. And this might be one of those occasions where the reality actually exceeds the dream for fans around Northern Alberta.

We won't go as far as claiming the Oilers stole game six on Sunday night in Edmonton, but they were certainly under the cosh for significant periods of the 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. They were outshot 35-10 -- in fact their 10 shots were the fewest ever on goal in a playoff game in team history -- got outhit 31-18 and lost the face-off battle.

Ultimately though it didn't matter, as Stuart Skinner finally silenced all the critics (including us) with the best playoff game of his career and the Oilers scored twice on their lethal power play. As a result, they now return to the Stanley Cup Final after a 18-year absence, with the opportunity to win their first championship since 1990.

A disastrous start to the season

While the Oilers were picked as favourites by certain media outlets to win it all during the preseason, doubts began to creep in when the real action began. They were embarrassed 8-1 by the Vancouver Canucks in the season opener and had the worst record in team history through 12 games.

However, as demoralising as this start to the 2023-24 campaign was, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the organisation. With all due respect to the unfortunate Jay Woodcroft, his firing resulted in the hiring of Kris Knoblauch and the rest, as they say, is history.

Knoblauch came in and under his calm, cerebral leadership, he turned the team around almost immediately. He had a eight-game winning streak within a month of taking over and soon after led the Oilers to 16 consecutive victories, falling just one short of the all-time record held by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There were understandably still doubts as the season progressed. However, overall the Oilers had the best regular season record in the NHL after Knobluach took over, as they went 46-18-5 under his stewardship.

The biggest improvement in the team under Knoblauch came defensively, where he basically did a better job of fixing the problem than Woodcroft. This extended to their penalty kill unit (particularly once the playoffs began).

It also helped that the players took on the personality of their coach, keeping cool and calm whenever faced with pressure and adversity. (Even Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane, at least to a certain extent!) Knoblauch is the type of person who when speaking to him, you can't tell if the team has just won or lost a game, thanks to his demeanour.

An undeniable mental fortitude

The revamped team mindset would prove key in the second round of the playoffs versus the Canucks, even more so after they somehow gave up a three-goal lead and lost game one. Then once again, when they fell behind 2-1 in the series.

The Oilers just would not be denied, as they came back to win the second round in seven games. They then faced the Stars and were understandably underdogs, versus a team which had taken five out of a possible six points from them during the regular season and had home-ice advantage.

Again though, this Oilers team was just not to be denied, as they split the first two games in Dallas. Even falling behind 2-1 in the series did not phase the team, as they came back to win three straight games and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Oilers will once more be underdogs as they prepare to face the Florida Panthers, especially after losing both games this season by a combined score of 10-4. The Panthers finished the regular season with the best goal difference in the NHL and will have home-ice advantage against the Oilers.

Oilers win Game 6 and move onto Stanley Cup Final. dark. Next. Oilers win Game 6 and move onto Stanley Cup Final

Ultimately though, would you really bet against the likes of Knoblauch, Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, Draisaitl and Skinner overcoming any obstacles they face, and finally bringing the Stanley Cup back home? They've been repeatedly doubted all season long, and now look where they are.