Skip to main content


Powered by:

FanDuel Sponsored Image

Intelligent Hockey: Best Bets for Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final


Everyone is asking the same question: How do you blow a three-game lead when you are one win away from holding the Stanley Cup?

Are the Florida Panthers completely unraveling or is this a triumph of the Edmonton Oilers and their indefatigable never-say-die attitude?

Will we remember this series as the Connor McDavid masterpiece that led to his first Stanley Cup or a remarkable McDavid postseason that fell just short?

Monday night will give us the answers. And right now, I’ll give you the best bets for game time.


Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers

Monday June 24 – 8:00 PM ET

In any story, a collapse of Jenga-style proportions has more than one reason. In the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, the Oilers have made several adjustments and the Panthers haven’t been able to adapt.

Remember Game 1? It seems like a long time ago, and it was. On June 8, the Panthers won 3-0 in a game where they were badly outplayed, with the Oilers more than doubling them in high-danger chances at 5-on-5, 13-6.

But a few minutes into the game, Edmonton was overzealous. McDavid sunk deep as the F3 on the forecheck, and he, Zach Hyman, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got caught beneath the puck as the Panthers zoomed out of their end. The result was Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe, and Sam Reinhart attacking in transition and Barkov finding Verhaeghe on the backdoor for a goal.

We don’t see that type of reckless decision-making from Edmonton anymore. Quite the opposite. In Friday’s game, ESPN flashed the graphic that in Games 1-3 the Panthers had 12 shot attempts off odd-man rushes and three goals off those rushes. In the subsequent three games, the Panthers had one shot attempt and zero goals from odd-man rushes. As with a faucet, an important resource was shut off.

The reason is that the Oilers’ F3 now stays high and sinks lower only when Edmonton comfortably has possession. The Oilers’ defencemen mostly stay moored to the point. When the Panthers eventually do reclaim possession, at least three Edmonton skaters are in position to defend the rush if Florida tries to attack in transition. A two-man forecheck has worked for Edmonton because its puck-carriers aren’t easily being knocked off the puck and the team is exhibiting a lot of patience, dead-set on not being put in a compromised position.

But a more conservatively positioned F3 is an incomplete explanation for what has transpired. Another reason Florida is in a pickle boils down to execution. In Game 2, Niko Mikkola jumped into the rush on the weak side and buried a shot as the second wave. Three Oilers skaters were back in defence, but the Panthers’ four-man attack added potency to their rush.

In Game 6, Gustav Forsling found himself in a similar spot: a four-man look off the rush where he received the puck as the trailer, ready to shoot from nearly the same place on the ice. But instead of Forsling burying it, the puck found its way into Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner’s equipment. The Panthers understand they need their defencemen active in their offence, but they are struggling to harness them in a way that generates quality scoring chances and tests Skinner.

From start to finish, the best game of the series for the Panthers has been Game 2, when they bested the Oilers 4-1. The eventual game-winning goal by Evan Rodrigues came off a forecheck that converted thanks to multiple failed passes to exit the zone. On an Evan Bouchard turnover, Rodrigues stole the puck and buried it upstairs.

What made the play notable was where the Edmonton forwards were. The Oilers’ forwards were above the puck, near the Panthers’ defencemen. The Oilers’ wings had been sinking deep in the defensive zone when the Panthers tried to play below the goal line, but there was at least some concern from Edmonton’s forwards about the shot from the point. No longer.

Now the Oilers brazenly stuff five players at the dots or lower, and the overload in the bottom half of the zone has caused fits for the Panthers’ forecheck and cycle. Florida hasn’t demonstrated it can use shots from the point or high cycle to burn the Oilers; instead, the Oilers have been able to weaponize the Panthers’ desperation.

On the second goal by the Oilers in Game 6, four Panthers’ skaters were crashing around on the forecheck as Florida pressed to match the Oilers in manpower in the bottom half of the zone. Unfortunately, the Oilers identified this exposure and Mattias Janmark flew the zone for a hard-rim stretch play that would catch the Panthers’ forecheckers beneath the puck. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t looked as sharp as he did in the beginning of the series, but he can hardly be faulted for allowing the Adam Henrique goal on a two-on-one.

Similar desperation by Florida on the forecheck and the Oilers’ disregard for the top half of the zone also contributed to the Zach Hyman goal that extended the lead to 3-0. In an effort to keep the pressure going below the circles, Forsling hastily took a shot off his back foot that went right into Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who used his body as a springboard for the Hyman breakaway goal.

The Oilers can have their cake and eat it. They can overwhelm the Panthers’ forwards with bodies and sticks when they try to create from below the goal line, taking away the slot and daring them to pass to the point. And when the Panthers’ defencemen have the puck, there hasn’t been a consistent danger of them walking the line to open up shooting lanes or beating their man one-on-one to open up room down low.

The Oilers’ wings have filled the shooting lane while Edmonton’s skaters around the net have done an extraordinary job on box-outs. The Panthers normally bully teams around the paint, winning the one-on-one in the crease for tips and rebounds. Edmonton has taken away the shooting lanes and limited the Panthers’ ability to get more than one player into the low slot.

But the Oilers aren’t unbeatable. In the last two games, the Panthers have scored all four of their goals off the forecheck and cycle at 5-on-5. If the Panthers’ forecheckers are more in sync on timing, and they interchange their F3 and near-side defenceman, there are ways to confuse and scramble the Oilers’ defensive coverage.

The Panthers need to play like a patient team again. They need to be able to hold onto the puck and win puck battles like the Florida team that came out of the Eastern Conference. A more confident team could spread Edmonton out in its own zone and connect on the passing plays into the slot when they open up. If the Panthers can keep this game at 5-on-5, I think they have a good shot at winning.

There have been three Game 7s this playoff season. When the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Boston Bruins in Round 1, there was a total of three power plays. When the Dallas Stars played the Vegas Golden Knights, there were two total power plays. In Round 2, the Edmonton-Vancouver Canucks’ series yielded five total power plays. That’s a small sample size, sure. But in a game of this magnitude it is easy to imagine the men in stripes getting out of the way except for the blatant penalties. While there have been a few games in the Edmonton-Florida series marked by a barrage of power plays, in three contests there were five total power plays or less.  

The Panthers’ power play has been a monstrosity. Their entries have been awful. They no longer seem capable of running the bumper play to Reinhart or setting him up for a shot-tip, nor do we see the wheel-route backdoor play to Verhaeghe. Rather, Florida’s power play is suffused with poor decision-making and ham-fisted puck-handling. Maybe the Panthers score a power-play goal in this contest. But it seems unlikely.

The Oilers’ power play has a myriad of options, but give the Panthers credit. They’ve done an exemplary job of blunting the Leon Draisaitl one-timer and the Hyman crease play. McDavid and Bouchard have caused problems, but the Oilers’ power play has three goals in 23 opportunities. Grabbing the under 1.5 power-play goals given the possibility of whistle swallowing and two excellent penalty kills is an opportunity too good to pass up.

In that vein, while Hyman has scored in his last two games, there are eight players who have more high-danger chances than Hyman through six games. Hyman is averaging two shots a game, and while his work in manufacturing offence and in keeping the Oilers in possession has been invaluable, I think the Panthers stand an excellent job of bottling him up in what I anticipate being a low-scoring affair.

The Panthers don’t have any more cushion. The breathing room is gone and the winner on Monday takes home the Cup. In the last three games, Skinner has 4.45 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) and Bobrovsky has a -6.98. In the first three games, Bobrovsky had a 5.18 GSAx and Skinner had a -1.76 GSAx.

I suspect both goaltenders will play well in Game 7 in a tight-checking contest with few mistakes, and I’ll happily grab the 5.5 under, which I think will hit even if there is an empty-net goal. This has been one of the craziest Cup finals of my lifetime, and with so many twists and turns leading us to Game 7, I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Picks: Total Power Play Goals U 1.5 -180, Total Goals U 5.5 -150, Zach Hyman Total Goals U 0.5 -185