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Oilers keep it light ahead of must-win Game 3

Connor McDavid Oilers Connor McDavid - The Canadian Press

The Edmonton Oilers are facing a must-win Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, but their spirits remain high.

The group had an informal skate on Wednesday morning with some new line combinations –and a bit of levity. Blueliner Brett Kulak was a couple of minutes late to the ice and teammates gave him mock stick taps after he arrived.

That loose mindset will be key for a group about to play its biggest game of the season, trailing the Florida Panthers 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. 

“You can’t put all that pressure on yourself,” said forward Corey Perry, who is expected to draw back in on Thursday. “You’ve got to go out and just play hockey.”

“Just play hockey” has been Perry’s message to his Oilers teammates. The 39-year-old winger is the only NHLer ever to have played in five Stanley Cup Finals for five different NHL teams.

The message seems to be rubbing off.

“We’re fine,” defenceman Evan Bouchard said with a smile. “If you want to get technical, it’s not really a must-win, right? It’s a best of seven. But it’s a game that we definitely want to win.”

The group is also remaining calm about the power play, which has gone 0-for-7 in the series after clicking at over 37 per cent over the first three rounds.

“We need to convert [on the power play] because it’s tough to generate offence this time of the year,” said Connor McDavid “Our power play has always been there for us. It’s always been a weapon, and it needs to be the rest of the series.”

There’s no sense of panic, despite the fact that Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has stopped 50 of 51 shots he’s faced in the series. 

“No frustration,” forward Zach Hyman declared. “A lot of looks, a couple of posts, what can you do? We’ll just keep going at it. [It’s] pretty proven over the course of the playoffs, over the course of the year, over the course of however many years that we’ve been together that we don’t get frustrated.”

Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins echoed Hyman.

“I still think that we’ve gotten some really good looks,” he said. “Especially in Game 1, had some good chances. The other night, we hit two bars. I think you want to still make the plays without giving pucks back easily, but we can probably up our shot rate a little bit.”

Blueliner Darnell Nurse is expected to suit up on Thursday after he was banged up in Game 2. Nurse had just seven total shifts and 4:20 of ice time, but according to head coach Kris Knoblauch he will likely play in the pivotal Game 3.

“I think with the medical treatment he got, he was able to play a little bit at the end of [Game 2],” Knoblauch said. “With the time off and everything that we need to do, I have no issues he’ll be ready to play.”

Nurse has taken plenty of heat in the market for his play during the postseason, but his teammates pointed out that they were a different group without him on Monday, and that his presence was sorely missed. 

“He’s an absolute horse for us,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “He eats huge minutes, plays against top guys on the other team, and makes plays all over the ice. He’s a great leader for us. We lean on him heavy.”

Fellow defenceman Mattias Ekholm praised Nurse’s leadership.

“Just his presence in the room,” he said. “He’s a great leader for us and obviously he’s a great player. Sometimes with defencemen, they just kind of play every game…but it’s actually when they’re not in the skates that you really notice their presence is not there anymore.”

The captain and others again pointed out on Wednesday how often this team has been counted out and bounced back.

They were languishing in the NHL’s basement in November and have climbed their way to the heights of June hockey. The Oilers are using their experience with tackling adversity as they stare down the most important 60 minutes of hockey of the season on Thursday. 

“We’ve been down and out lots this year,” McDavid said. “We’ve been down and out lots throughout the playoffs. It’s nothing new to this group. Where does that [belief] come from? I think it comes from just such a big will to win. Our group wants to win as bad as I’ve seen…our group has willed our way out of situations, and I think we have an opportunity to do that here.”



Nugent-Hopkins - McDavid - Hyman
McLeod - Draisaitl - Holloway
Janmark -Henrique - Brown
Foegele - Carrick/Ryan - Perry

Ekholm - Bouchard
Gleason - Desharnais
Kulak - Broberg
Kemp - Ceci

Gleason place holding for Nurse