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Can the Oilers mount an improbable comeback?


Caution: objects in the rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear.

So hopes extreme optimist Kris Knoblauch and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers, who have little else but to believe they are capable of an all-time Stanley Cup Final comeback.

It’s fair to say the Oilers at least got their engines started in Game 4, a blistering 8-1 victory that chased seemingly unbeatable goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in a blink.

It has been a lopsided series on the surface, and prior to Game 4 you could have argued the Oilers had mustered all of one quality period against this Panthers team. Yet after four games, consider this: despite the 3-1 series advantage to Florida, both teams are deadlocked at 12 goals apiece, and the score at even strength is just 11-10 (+1) in Florida’s favour.

Panthers fans can and will tell you single-game blowouts happen frequently, even in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Paul Maurice and company punted on that game early – including a mid-game goaltender pull. That’s a reasonable assessment. With two more games on home ice remaining, Florida has plenty of bites at this apple. It felt, in some respect, like a fluky loss.

But Oilers fans could make a similar puck-luck argument from earlier in the series, especially concerning Game 1. Much like the Panthers’ incredible defence rarely concedes so many goals in a game, it’s similarly uncommon for the Oilers to have such a decisive scoring drought. One goal in two games? Rare.

Because of that, I wanted to set aside the narratives building up from Game 4 and simply look at how the head-to-head matchups have played out over these four games. Ultimately, this is the best insight we can glean from a four-game series and what it may indicate for Game 5 and onward.

The below table covers every skater with at least one appearance in the series, sorted by usage rates, and how they have performed against one another:

I’ll start with Connor McDavid. I found even the feint criticism of him after Game 3 absurd. In my estimation he was the only forward (perhaps along with Adam Henrique, who hasn’t always been a seamless fit into these speedy Oilers lines) holding above water through those losses.

In four games he’s given the Oilers a two-goal even-strength advantage — maybe the Panthers are willing to take that sort of lump to win elsewhere, but it’s critical here to understand the Oilers are winning these minutes.

Next, Philip Broberg. Sometimes you write things that age poorly. If you’re Travis Yost, most of those things age poorly. But betting on Broberg has proven to be a winner here, and considering the extreme challenges several players on the Edmonton blueline have internally posed this month, you wonder why they didn’t go to the 22-year old sooner.

Broberg has his limitations to be sure, but he is a capable puck mover, even against pressure — a critical component in a series against Florida’s blistering forecheck, and a skill not readily available on this roster beyond the Bouchard pairing. That was the argument I was making as far back as October.

On the negative side of the ledger, I mentioned Florida might be okay with small losses in the McDavid minutes because they can win depth on depth. That is been the story of this series so far, and — coupled with some Stuart Skinner struggles — why they’re trailing in the series. Most of the Edmonton third-line types are deep in the hole on goal differential, and it’s why you’ve seen Knoblauch make measured changes there.

Into Game 5, I am most curious if they stick with Evander Kane and Sam Carrick in the press box, a la Game 4.

Stealing one in Sunrise with a similar lineup mix, and heading back to Alberta for a raucous Game 6 is the plan. We will see if the Oilers can execute.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference