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Why the Oilers now have to overcome a huge 2-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. – Edmonton Oilers players have repeatedly spoken about their ability to overcome adversity, highlighted by them overcoming a terrible start to the season to win their last two playoff series after trailing.

Well, now they’re about to be really put to the test.

The Oilers return to Edmonton after a second straight loss to the Florida Panthers, this time 4-1 on Monday, and with an ailing Darnell Nurse to make matters worse.

“It’s not the best situation,” Leon Draisaitl said. “We have to find our game and get better.”

Teams trailing 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final have won just five times in 54 tries. The last time there was a comeback of this nature was in 2011, when Boston defeated Vancouver.

The Oilers certainly have their work cut out for them.

“It’s another opportunity for our group to come together and dig our way out,” Connor McDavid said. “It’s supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be difficult, and I’m curious to see what our group consists of.

“I’m excited to see our group come together, I’m excited to see us fight through adversity, and I look forward to people doubting us again with our backs against the wall.”

There wasn’t enough of that fight McDavid mentioned Monday.

The Oilers forced the game for most of Game 1, but were shut out by Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The same cannot be said for Game 2. The territorial advantage they enjoyed disappeared completely.

“It’s a good team. They won two games at home, probably one where we were there,” winger Zach Hyman said. “They deserved this.”

The Oilers scored on their first shot when Mattias Ekholm came down the wing and beat Bobrovsky by five as the teams skated four-on-four. However, that opening salvo didn’t come until 11:17 into the game.

They didn’t generate much from there, mustering just seven shots on Bobrovsky through the first 40 minutes as part of 19 in the match.

The Panthers took control of the game and were rewarded with Niko Mikkola’s equalizer in the second period and two goals from Evan Rodrigues in the third. Aaron Ekblad had the empty netter.

“We didn’t put enough pucks on net,” defenseman Evan Bouchard said.

“They played better than us,” Hyman said. “We didn’t play with enough pace. They controlled the game for most of the game.”

It seemed like the Oilers were running out of steam, which was compounded by an ejection and injuries.

Warren Foegele, who was moved to the right wing of the third line as part of a revamped forward line, was ejected at 9:21 of the first period after kneeing Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen. Up to 11 forwards were thrown into a blender across the bottom six lines and those players saw their ice time largely reduced.

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Oilers’ Warren Foegele is ejected for kneeling Eetu Luostarinen

Evander Kane, who ended up on Foegele’s line for Game 2, was clearly working and played only 10:33. Now a nurse can be added to the walking wounded.

Nurse took a hit from Rodrigues in the left corner of Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner and immediately grabbed his left hip. He left the game at 8:23 of the first period. Although he returned in the second and played three more shifts, he was limited to 4:20 in the game.

Nurse’s limited action meant Knoblauch’s bold call to remove Cody Ceci and let Vincent Desharnais skate next to Nurse never really gained any traction. Bouchard (30:40) and Ekholm (24:54) saw their workload increase.

“Obviously losing Darnell early wasn’t ideal,” Bouchard said. “He’s a big part of the back end. We have to find a way to stand up for him.”

Nurse came through the 2022 playoffs with a torn hip flexor. Knoblauch said he believes Nurse can play in Game 3 on Thursday. It is difficult to imagine that the nurse will be almost completely healthy if he can adapt.

Of all the things going against them, the Oilers have themselves to blame for their plight.

They are known as an attacking juggernaut, but their scoring power has dried up as the Panthers make things challenging from Bobrovsky onwards. McDavid had an assist on Ekholm’s goal, his only point of the series. Draisaitl has yet to appear on the scoresheet.

“We can definitely be better,” Draisaitl said. “It starts with me. There is certainly much more to give.”

And then there’s the power play. The Oilers are 0-for-7 on the man advantage in the series. They scored on just five of their last 28 chances after going 14-for-30 to start the playoffs.

“We have to work our way out of it. It always starts with working with our group,” said McDavid. “They are a unique penalty kill, just like they are a unique team. They are aggressive.

“We have to have guys that are ready for the puck. We need guys to play well. We have to put good pieces together and we were not able to do that.”

The chances went away at five-on-five in Game 2 after producing so many in the series opener.

Add it all up and the Oilers have just one goal through 120 minutes in the series.

“You’re not going to win many games that way,” McDavid said, stating the obvious.

“You have to find a way to score,” Hyman said.

The adage is that the series only really begins when a team loses on home ice. The reality seems different here. Kane and Nurse, two of their supposed better players, being so hampered only adds to the anxiety.

The Oilers wasted an opportunity to take a lead in the matchup by losing Game 1 when they were the better team. They were outclassed in Game 2 by the determination of the short bench and hampered skaters.

Conditions are bleak, even with a positive twist.

“We feel like we’ve gotten here and we’ve played enough to get a split. That doesn’t always happen,” says Knoblauch. “I don’t see any reason to panic or do anything drastic.

“I don’t want to get too caught up in, ‘We’re down 2-0 and we’re in a lot of trouble.’ We just have to win the next game.”

As Knoblauch said, the Oilers aren’t done yet. But something has to change – and quickly – before they can get back into this and have any hope of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton for the first time since 1990.

They’re clearly down, but they don’t think they’re out. They have a lot of experience in that area that they can draw on.

They have been through a lot of tough tests this season. There is no doubt about it; this one is the heaviest yet.

“We’ve done it all year, but we just have to be better,” Draisaitl said. “It’s very simple. There’s not much more to say about that.”

(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)