Stanley Cup Final preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers schedule, predictions, how teams stack up and more

The series begins Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida

Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final is Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)
Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final is Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

Stanley Cup hockey in June is becoming the norm. The 2024 Cup Final will be the 14th time since 1993 that the NHL’s championship series will begin in the sixth month of the calendar year.

And should the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers need a seventh game, we’re talking about Gary Bettman handing the Stanley Cup to Aleksander Barkov or Connor McDavid on June 24. That means the ice maintenance crews in Sunrise and Edmonton will be working even harder to make sure the playing surface is in top shape despite the temperatures outside each building.

These teams are in their 10th(!) month of games this season. Training camps opened in mid-September and here they are, vying for a championship. For the Panthers, it would be their first title in franchise history in their third attempt. Meanwhile, the Oilers are seeking their sixth Stanley Cup title in their eighth trip to the Cup Final.

The last time Edmonton celebrated a Stanley Cup was May 24, 1990 — two seasons after they traded some guy named Wayne Gretzky. Only four players on the current roster — Corey Perry, Derek Ryan, Adam Henrique and Mattias Ekholm — were alive then, with Ekholm being born on that very day.

Game 1: Oilers at Panthers | Saturday, June 8, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 2: Oilers at Panthers | Monday, June 10, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 3: Panthers at Oilers | Thursday, June 13, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 4: Panthers at Oilers | Saturday, June 15, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
*Game 5: Oilers at Panthers | Tuesday, June 18, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
*Game 6: Panthers at Oilers | Friday, June 21, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)
*Game 7: Oilers at Panthers | Monday, June 24, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+)

(*if necessary)

Florida Panthers

Regular season: 1st in Atlantic Division (52-24-6; 110 points)

Playoffs: Beat Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1) in First Round; Boston Bruins (4-2) in Second Round; New York Rangers (4-2) in Eastern Conference Final.

Edmonton Oilers

Regular season: 2nd in Pacific Division (49-27-6; 104 points)

Playoffs: Beat Los Angeles Kings (4-1) in First Round; Vancouver Canucks (4-3) in Second Round; Dallas Stars (4-2) in Western Conference Final.

The 2024 Stanley Cup Final will begin on Saturday, June 8 at Amerant Bank Arena in Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The 2024 Stanley Cup Final will begin on Saturday, June 8 at Amerant Bank Arena in Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

1. There has not been a Stanley Cup Final with a greater distance between two cities. The trip from Sunrise, Florida, to Edmonton, Alberta, is 2,541 miles, per ESPN Stats and Info. That beats out the 2011 Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, which came in at 2,500 miles. This explains the multiple extra days off between games.

2. Since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, only six Canadian teams have reached the Stanley Cup Final. Each one — Vancouver (1994, 2011), Calgary (2004), Edmonton (2006), Ottawa (2007), Montreal (2021) — failed to win the Cup.

3. The top four picks from the 2014 NHL draft in order: Aaron Ekblad (Florida), Sam Reinhart (Buffalo), Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton), Sam Bennett (Calgary). Only Ekblad and Draisaitl are with their original teams. Reinhart was later traded to Florida in July 2021. Bennett was traded to the Panthers at the 2021 trade deadline and would sign a four-year deal.

4. Connor McDavid was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, which took place in ... Sunrise, Florida.

5. Back on Nov. 12, 2023, the Oilers were 31st in the NHL with a 3-9-1 record. Head coach Jay Woodcroft was fired and Kris Knoblauch, who had been plying his trade in the American Hockey League since 2019-20, was given his first NHL head coaching job.

Over the final 69 games of the regular season after Knoblauch was hired, the Oilers were the best team in the NHL, picking up 46 wins and 97 points to finish with the seventh-most points and fourth-most wins.

6. Only one team in NHL history has been out of the playoff picture by 10 points and gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues achieved the feat after a tumultuous season that also saw them fire their head coach and find themselves in a deep hole at one point during the regular season. Are the Oilers next?

7. Only five teams in the NHL’s expansion era (post-1967) have returned to the Stanley Cup Final a year after losing in the final series. Two have won. Will the Panthers join the 2008-09 Penguins and the 1983-84 Oilers?

8. The Oilers have the edge in the special teams battle between the two teams. Their power play leads the NHL, running at a 37.3% clip going up against the most-penalized team this postseason. Florida has taken 69 penalties, but it also employs the second-best penalty kill (88.2%).

Edmonton, meanwhile, has not allowed a power-play goal in 10 straight games.

9. Unsurprisingly, Connor McDavid has been doing Connor McDavid things. He has 31 points through 18 games this postseason. This is the second time he’s hit 30 points in the playoffs in his career. Only Wayne Gretzky (6) and Mark Messier (3) have done it more.

10. If there’s a close-out game in the series for the Oilers, odds are in goaltender Stuart Skinner’s favor. The Oilers goaltender is 4-0 in series-clinching games this postseason.

11. Oilers forward Corey Perry has won two Stanley Cups in his career, with the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning. After beginning the season with the Chicago Blackhawks and later joining the Oilers, he’s set to become the first player in NHL history to play in five Cup Finals with five different teams (Anaheim, 2007; Dallas, 2020; Montreal, 2021; Tampa Bay, 2022).

Neither the Panthers or Oilers touched their respective conference trophies. Which team will garner the good fortune that comes with ignoring the trophy? (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Neither the Panthers nor Oilers touched their respective conference trophies. Which team will garner the good fortune that comes with ignoring the trophy? (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hockey players are not just a little 'stitous, they are famously superstitious. When it comes to the conference trophies, most decide against holding it up with pride. Players usually gather around the trophy for a team photo while not coming close to touching the thing.

But what does history tell us?

The Western Conference winners get the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which has seen 15 teams ignore it over the last 17 seasons. Nine of those teams were later Stanley Cup champions.

When the Oilers last made the Cup Final in 2006, captain Jason Smith made the decision to not touch the Campbell Bowl. They went on to lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.

The Panthers kept to the superstition this year. When they won the Prince of Wales Trophy last season, captain Aleksandr Barkov touched the trophy and the team skated with it. They would later lose the Cup Final to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

You can imagine what happened when they won it again last week against the New York Rangers.

That’s right, Barkov and his teammates stayed away from it while gathering for the team photo with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.

The first time the Panthers made the Cup Final in 1996, captain Brian Skrudland hoisted the Prince of Wales Trophy. They were quickly swept by the Colorado Avalanche in that season’s Cup Final.

Maybe the second time is the charm? Sidney Crosby didn’t touch the Prince of Wales Trophy in 2008 and the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games. A year later, he did touch it and the Penguins exacted revenge on the Red Wings in seven games.

Since 2016, seven teams have touched the Prince of Wales Trophy and five have gone on to win the Cup. Will the Panthers’ second chance change their fortunes?

Kyle Okposo, 36, has not played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016 when he was with the New York Islanders. (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

1. Kyle Okposo, 36: The veteran winger is in his 17th season and this is only the third time he’s experienced playoff hockey. He suffered a serious concussion in 2017 that affected him for months and nearly ended his career. Known as one of the nicest guys in the league and a solid teammate, it would be tough not to get a little emotional should he get his opportunity.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, 35: The two-time Vezina Trophy winner had his first crack at a title last year when the Panthers fell to the Golden Knights. Could a Stanley Cup ring cement a spot in Toronto and the Hockey Hall of Fame?

3. Sam Gagner, 34: This is Gagner’s third stint with the Oilers. He’s played a limited role this season, having only suited up for 28 games, and has been in the lineup just twice since Feb. 21. He’s yet to feature in the playoffs and likely won’t see action against the Panthers, barring numerous injuries. But his service to the franchise would see a great response from the fans if Edmonton wins the series.

4. Paul Maurice, 57: If it feels like the Panthers head coach has been around forever, it’s because, well, he has. Maurice began his NHL head coaching career in 1995 with the Hartford Whalers when he was 28 years old. He’s led two teams to Cup Finals (Carolina, 2002; Florida, 2023) but lost both times.

5. Adam Henrique, 34: The biggest goal in Henrique’s NHL career sent the New Jersey Devils to the Cup Final in 2012. After falling to the Kings that season, he had only played four playoff games before being traded to Edmonton in March. After beginning the season with the Anaheim Ducks, he was traded to Edmonton in March and quickly went from thinking about offseason plans to having Stanley Cup dreams.

Will Connor McDavid bring Edmonton its first Stanley Cup title since 1990? (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Will Connor McDavid bring Edmonton its first Stanley Cup title since 1990? (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Oilers have the two best players in the series in McDavid and Draisaitl, and that can lift a team most nights. But it's not just Edmonton's dynamic duo that's helped get them to this point. Zach Hyman (14 goals), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (20 points) and defenseman Evan Bouchard (6 goals, 27 points) have been big contributors.

Goaltender Stuart Skinner is coming off a great series against the Stars after a rough Second Round versus the Vancouver Canucks. Skinner and the Oilers have allowed more than two goals only once in his last eight starts. He hasn't been excellent, as shown by his .889 even-strength save percentage in the playoffs (via Natural Stat Trick), but he's been good enough to help earn victories.

But Skinner and the Oilers will be facing a Panthers team that has averaged 33.2 shots per game. Edmonton has done a good job of suppressing shots (25 shots allowed per game) and just held a dangerous Stars team to zero power-play goals in their series.

Stuart Skinner headshot
Stuart Skinner
G - EDM - #74
2023 - 2024 season

The Oilers have been tagged as an offensive-heavy team led by McDavid and Draisaitl, but they've shown defensive abilities — with the obvious success on the penalty kill — that will provide tough opposition for the Panthers.

Their best players will need to be their best players and the power play will have to continue clicking if there are going to be parties in Alberta this summer.

Sergei Bobrovsky's .924 save percentage at 5-on-5 has elicited confidence in his teammates in front of him. His very few bad games have resulted in Florida defeats this postseason, which shows that when he's on, the Panthers back him up offensively.

You don't get to this point in the season without depth. Fourteen different Panthers have contributed goals and they have produced 43 more scoring chances at 5-on-5 than the Oilers in one fewer game played, by NST's tracking. They're also tops in the postseason in expected goals percentage (55.02), while the Oilers are at 49.43%.

The Panthers also aren't shy about bringing a physical element to games. Matthew Tkachuk is their lead pest and Sam Bennett has been know to toe that line of physicality with illegality. That's what you'd expect out of a Paul Maurice-coached team.

Their penalty kill isn't as strong as Edmonton's has been, but it can be effective in shutting down a big avenue for goals (30% of the Oilers' goals this postseason have come via the power play — 19 out of 63).

Panthers in 6

The Panthers have been successful at silencing opposing stars. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point combined for three goals in five games for Tampa in the First Round; Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak contributed a total of zero goals for the Bruins in the Second Round; and Mika Zibanejard, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider scored two goals in six games for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.

There's a trend here, something that Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch and his staff are certainly game-planning against.

Not only have individual stars had a tough time against Florida, but power-play units have suffered as well. The Bruins went 1-for-17, while the Rangers also scored only once in their 15 opportunities. The Lightning fared well, scoring four times in 20 chances, but Maurice's adjustments after the First Round have paid off.

A strong forechecking game is what has helped the Panthers offensively and could lead to holes being exploited as the Oilers transition into defensive zone coverage. Edmonton's defense may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of Florida recoveries in the offensive zone and just how well they can create scoring chances off cycling the puck.

Florida does so much to force opponents off their game, and it's been a successful approach through three rounds. They learned last year how hard it is to earn 16 wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Experience will play a role against the Oilers, and it will just be more of the same that allowed them to overtake their previous two opponents.