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5 Stanley Cup Closing storylines to look at in Oilers vs. Panthers

Seven games, I don’t know her. The Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers both trailed in their respective conference finals 2-1 after Game 3. But three straight wins apiece later, they’re set to face off in the Stanley Cup Final. And with this series comes several storylines to watch.  GO DEEPER When does the 2024 Stanley

5 Stanley Cup Closing storylines to look at in Oilers vs. Panthers

Seven video games, I don’t know her.

The Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers each trailed of their respective convention finals 2-1 after Sport 3. However three straight wins apiece later, they’re set to face off within the Stanley Cup Closing. And with this sequence comes a number of storylines to look at. 

McDavid going to first Stanley Cup Closing

Connor McDavid is a generational expertise and after eliminating the Dallas Stars in six video games, he will get to play on one of many greatest levels in hockey for the primary time in his profession: the Stanley Cup Closing.

That isn’t simply thrilling for Oilers followers however all the hockey world. McDavid is a sight to see each time he steps on the ice, and that has solely been amplified within the playoffs. Simply take a look at his stage over the previous few postseasons. In 2022, McDavid willed the Oilers via two rounds with a ridiculous 33 factors in 16 video games. Final 12 months, he was once more Edmonton’s spine with 20 factors in 12 video games. 

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Learn The Athletic’s full Stanley Cup Final preview

This 12 months, McDavid has constructed on his brilliance. His 31 factors in 18 video games scratch the floor of what a difference-maker he has been. After a robust Spherical 2 towards the Vancouver Canucks, McDavid rose to an elite plus-38 Internet Ranking to remain atop the playoff area. His efficiency towards Dallas has solely added to that – simply take his electrical Sport 6 to help clinch the series. 

Perhaps essentially the most thrilling a part of McDavid reaching the ultimate is the timing. This isn’t an instance of an getting older star arriving right here within the latter stage of their profession. Prime McDavid (and Leon Draisaitl) now has an opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Panthers are again and quite a bit much less damaged

Florida was the underdog of final 12 months’s postseason, beginning with a Spherical 1 assembly towards a historic Boston Bruins staff. However after rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win in seven video games, the Panthers took the 2023 playoffs by storm with a visit to the Stanley Cup Closing. 

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4 rounds of playoff hockey takes a toll on most groups, and the Panthers felt the ache of that by the point they reached the ultimate. Brandon Montour, Sam Bennett, Radko Gudas and Eetu Luostarinen have been among the many strolling wounded. Aaron Ekblad suffered via a damaged foot, shoulder dislocations and a torn indirect. And Matthew Tkachuk broke his sternum towards Vegas. 

The Panthers possible don’t have a clear invoice of well being — no staff does presently of 12 months. However Florida isn’t limping into the ultimate like final 12 months, which ought to make for a better-quality sequence. There may be a number of harm luck concerned, however the Panthers’ balanced strategy appears to be serving to as nicely. Florida didn’t need to over-leverage its greatest to get thus far, leaving their staff with slightly steam for an important sequence of the 12 months. 

Will Oilers’ protection and goaltending implode?

The Oilers have clear strengths: an offense led by two of the perfect skaters on this planet, supported by high-end complementary forwards like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman. 

However Edmonton additionally has some clear weaknesses on the again finish which have haunted them through the common season and playoffs. 

At occasions this postseason, the choice to not purchase one other defenseman has damage the Oilers as a result of there are solely so many changes out there to them. Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse’s evident struggles seemed like the weak link that might maintain Edmonton again. The identical is true with Stuart Skinner in internet, whose instabilities price the Oilers a number of video games. 

The Oilers are going to the ultimate because of some key adjustments on the again finish. Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey’s tweaks helped Edmonton tighten up towards the Stars within the second half of the sequence. And Skinner has stood tall and appeared extra assured in internet with two high quality begins to shut out Spherical 3. If each can maintain up, Edmonton has an actual likelihood towards Florida. 

The issue is that the protection and goaltending haven’t earned that belief simply but, leaving this as one risk looming over the Oilers towards a high-octane staff just like the Panthers. 

Forsling vs. Edmonton’s stars

Spherical after spherical, the Panthers have leaned on Gustav Forsling to close down their opponents’ greatest. 

In Spherical 1, that meant a gentle dose of Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov. The Panthers earned 53 p.c of the anticipated objective share of their 48 head-to-head five-on-five minutes however have been outscored 2-1.

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In Spherical 2, Forsling was served a matchup towards Boston’s David Pastrnak. In over 52 minutes of shared ice, Florida stayed above break-even with 51 p.c of the anticipated objectives and a 3-2 edge in scoring. 

Then in Spherical 3, Forsling primarily matched up with Mika Zibanejad. The New York Rangers didn’t muster a lot in these minutes, with zero objectives. Florida, then again, scored twice whereas incomes an virtually 69 p.c anticipated objectives fee. 

Forsling has emerged as among the finest shutdown defensemen within the league, which possible earned him some votes for the Norris Trophy. And now it might achieve him some Conn Smythe buzz relying on how this subsequent sequence goes. 

The Stanley Cup Closing will probably be his greatest job but, with matchup minutes towards the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman forward. How Forsling accommodates Edmonton’s greatest will probably be a pivotal storyline to look at.

What occurs if the Oilers’ energy play will get shut down?

The Oilers are dynamite on the ability play. This postseason, it’s clicking at a league-high 37.3 p.c with 19 objectives scored on 51 alternatives. 

However what occurs if Edmonton will get shut down on the benefit?

The Panthers boast a stout penalty kill. It’s been a power all season, even once they have been lacking key cogs to open the season. And now via three rounds, Florida has maintained its edge whereas short-handed, even in Spherical 3 towards the Rangers’ harmful unit. 

The Panthers’ penalty kill is working at 88 p.c, which is second to solely the Oilers. Florida’s short-handed strategy isn’t solely a results of sturdy goaltending however stable play in entrance of the blue paint. The Panthers restrict their opponents’ shot and scoring likelihood creation and power their opponents to play protection towards short-handed seems to be. 

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If these groups neutralize one another within the special-teams battle, it’ll put much more emphasis on five-on-five play. Edmonton managed play in essential elements of Spherical 3 towards Dallas, with about 60 p.c of the anticipated objectives share in each Video games 4 and 5.

Now how will that match as much as the Panthers’ balanced strategy?

— Information through Pure Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey

(Picture of Connor McDavid and Anton Lundell: Bruce Bennett / Getty Photos)

Shayna Goldman

Shayna Goldman is a workers author for The Athletic who focuses on mixing data-driven evaluation and video to dive deeper into hockey. She covers fantasy hockey and nationwide tales that have an effect on all the NHL. She is the co-creator of and 1/3 of the Too Many Males podcast. Her work has additionally appeared at Sportsnet, HockeyGraphs and McKeen’s Hockey. She has a Grasp of Science in sports activities enterprise from New York College. Comply with Shayna on Twitter @hayyyshayyy

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