How the Edmonton Oilers arrived on the precipice of the Stanley Cup Final

DALLAS — The road to get to this point wasn’t conventional for the Edmonton Oilers, but the destination checks out.

From the moment Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl declared this was a “Cup or bust” season after a crushing loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last postseason, this is always where the Oilers were supposed to be.

They’re one win away from reaching the organization’s first Stanley Cup Final in 18 years, which means it’s the deepest the McDavid-and-Draisaitl-led group has gone in the postseason. It all makes sense.

“We’re a confident group,” veteran winger Zach Hyman said. “We have been — even when we started the season poorly. We were still a confident group. We still believed in our team and believed in our goal.

“There’s nothing to be excited about now. We still have work to do. That’s the mentality. That was the mentality going into the year. That’s the mentality now. Nothing’s changed.”

Hyman hit the nail on the head.

Think of everything the Oilers have accomplished this season. They dug out of a 2-9-1 start that left them tied for last in the NHL to post the best points percentage (.703) after Kris Knoblauch was hired on Nov. 12. They overcame three different series deficits against Vancouver. They trailed 2-1 in the series and 2-0 in Game 4 of their current series — the Western Conference final to the Dallas Stars.

All that won’t mean a thing unless they close out the Stars, though. Their first chance to do that is Game 6 in Edmonton on Sunday.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” Hyman said. “We set ourselves up well to have a chance to win this series at home.”

The Oilers can’t let this opportunity slip away. They’re right in their championship window, but it’s one that easily could be closing sooner rather than later.


Is this the last stand for Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers?

Colleague Mark Lazerus documented the potentially dire future of the organization in the coming seasons regardless of whether McDavid and/or Draisaitl remain with the club after their contracts expire.

The time to get the job done is now. The Oilers feel like they’re primed and ready, especially given what they’ve been through.

“Just the belief that we have in each other,” Draisaitl said. “The belief that we have in our group that when we get to our game, and the longer we get to it, it’s really dangerous and it’s really, really good.

“The trust and belief in each other is really high.”

And why shouldn’t it be?

The Oilers have proven they’ve been the best team in the NHL for the last 69 games of the season. They’re 11-6 in the playoffs and they’re one victory away from being a series win away from their objective from last May.

“It’s been a heck of a year. Some very down points,” Hyman said. “We came into this season with extremely high expectations. We obviously hit rock bottom, had a coaching change and went through things at the beginning of the year that, if you told us (before), we probably wouldn’t have believed you.

“We’ve always been at our best when we’ve faced adversity. Any team that goes on and has a run usually faces some type of adversity. We faced ours early. We were comfortable in these situations. … We’re better for it.”

The other part of having that belief is past disappointments, Draisaitl said.

“We went to the conference finals two years ago. Lost to the Stanley Cup champion in six games last year. Probably a series that could have went either way where they were just a little bit better at the end,” he said. “We got off to a bad start. But, deep down, we all knew how good we could be once we find our confidence and once we get going. We ended up finding it.”

That confidence appears to be at an all-time high — or very close to it.

This Dallas series was tight early on with essentially three one-goal games. They let Game 3 slip away and came out flat for the first half of the first period of Game 4. Since then, they’ve dominated and scored eight straight goals before Wyatt Johnston scored a late one for Dallas on Friday.

The Oilers have been the better team at five-on-five, their penalty kill has been perfect, and their power play finally scored its first two goals of the series — both by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Game 6.



One win away from the Stanley Cup Final, the Oilers have their power play back

“Last game was probably our most complete game of the year,” Hyman said. “Everybody playing a part and doing their job. Everybody playing well. If we do that, we’re a hard team to beat.”

Still, the task at hand hasn’t been completed yet, of course.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Knoblauch said. “If we continue to play the way we have the last five periods, it gives us a good opportunity to win. As well as we’ve played in those five periods, it still might not be good enough to win a hockey game.”

Lose, and the Oilers will have to travel back to Dallas and play a road game against a coach, Pete DeBoer, who’s a perfect 8-0 in Game 7s.

But win, and the Oilers have a shot at claiming the big silver trophy — the one they’ve had their sights on for more than a year.

Is it possible to even relish the experience with that kind of pressure?

“You try to enjoy it a bit, too,” Draisaitl said. “But once you jump on the ice for warmups, your natural instincts are to do your job and get dialed in and stick to what you’ve done for the last God knows how many years. It all goes away and you’re trying to play your best hockey.”

Draisaitl said before Game 5, “I truly believe that our best beats anyone’s best.” He felt they were pretty darn close to it that night. The proof was in the pudding based on the result, a convincing 3-1 win.

Now the Oilers just have to do that one more time to get to their predestined place.

“We have a goal — and that’s to play our best game,” Draisaitl said. “We’ve got to make sure we bring it.”

(Photo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

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