Oilers face Panthers seeking Canada's first Stanley Cup since '93

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Edmonton;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Edmonton</a> captain <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Connor McDavid;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Connor McDavid</a> leads the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Oilers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Oilers</a> against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Florida Panthers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Florida Panthers</a> in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final (Leila Devlin)

Connor McDavid, a three-time NHL Most Valuable Player, and his Edmonton Oilers teammates will have support from all across Canada when they face the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final.

McDavid will play in the first final of his nine-year NHL career when the Oilers visit Florida on Saturday to open the best-of-seven championship series.

No Canadian team has captured the trophy since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, the longest such gap since the hardware was introduced in 1893. Six Canadian clubs have lost in the final since Montreal's victory.

McDavid, considered by many the NHL's greatest active player, won last year's goal scoring crown and this season has produced a career-best 100 assists plus 32 goals to spark the Oilers into their first final since 2006, when they lost to Carolina in seven games.

"There have been lots of growing pains, for sure, lots of lessons, and obviously it feels great to be in this position," McDavid said. "This was always part of the plan, and it feels good to be here today."

Together with Leon Draisaitl, who has 10 goals and 18 assists in the playoffs, McDavid has the Oilers with a chance to lift the Cup for the first time since 1990. McDavid tops all playoff scorers with five goals and 26 assists.

Blocking McDavid's path to the title, however, is a deep and talented Florida Panthers squad ignited by Finnish captain Aleksander Barkov, one that reached last year's Stanley Cup Final only to fall to Vegas in five games.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe. "They have some pretty special players over there and definitely going to embrace it.

"Any time you go against some of the best players in the world it's always fun and challenging."

The Panthers are the first team to return to the final after losing the prior year since the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We expected to be back here,” said Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk. "We were expecting this the way we’ve been working, the way we’ve been dialed in and detailed. We're very happy to be back -- but the job is not finished."

Florida starts goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as top NHL goaltender. He is 12-5 with a 2.20 goals-against average in the playoffs, where he has allowed two goals or fewer in 13 of 17 contests.

"The job is not done," Bobrovsky said. "There's a good challenge in front of us and we're excited for it."

Edmonton counters with Stuart Skinner, who is 11-5 with a 2.50 GAA.

"Can't say enough good things," McDavid said of Skinner. "He learned a lot from last year's playoffs and he's putting them to good use. He's an elite goaltender.

"Everybody is doing a lot of really good things and we're getting great goaltending."

- 'A great challenge' -

The Oilers began the campaign with only three wins in 13 contests before replacing coach Jay Woodcroft with Kris Knoblauch. They were an NHL-best 46-18 with five overtime losses during the remainder of the regular season.The Panthers beat Edmonton in both their regular-season meetings, 5-3 in November and 5-1 in December.

"They’re fast-paced, physical, have a good power play. We'll obviously take some time here to have a look at their game," Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.

Edmonton leads the NHL in power-play goals at 37.3% (19-for-51 with the extra-man) while Florida is at 23.3% (14-for-60). Draisaitl leads the NHL with six power-play playoff goals while Zach Hyman has five.

"They've got an unbelievable power play and two of the best players in the world, so it's going to be a great challenge for us to try and stop them," Panthers forward Sam Bennett said.