Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup loss means they miss out on ultra rare feat

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Oilers on the verge of greatest comeback in sports history
The Edmonton Oilers seemed dead in the water after losing their first three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers. Eric Sorensen looks at how difficult it would have been for the Oilers to come back and win the cup. – Jun 24, 2024

If the Edmonton Oilers had won the Stanley Cup, they would have secured their names in history not just for being champions but also for having achieved an incredibly rare feat: winning a championship after being down by three games in the final round of a best-of-seven series.

No team in Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association has done it, though a few teams rallied victories in other playoff series.

The last — and only — NHL team to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup after losing three games straight was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

“There just aren’t a lot of teams that are down 3-0 that have either the innate talent to bounce back from that or the mental fortitude especially to be able to win those consecutive games,” sports analyst Neil Paine told Global News.

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Edmonton Oilers prepare for Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final: ‘confident group’

Paine closely watches and calculates the statistics of games, and said the numbers reveal something even more impressive about an Oilers’ victory on Monday night, had it happened.

The team had just a 3.3 per cent chance of winning after Game 3, when the Florida Panthers won 4-3 and had outscored the Oilers 11-4 in the first three contests.

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The 3.3 per cent is an Elo rating — a number determined by considering things like a team’s regular and post-season performance, its goal differential and even whether it was playing a home game, Paine said. It adjusts after every game.

“We have these ratings computed for every game in the history of the NHL going back to 1918,” he said, speaking from Bentonville, Ark.

“And so you really can see the ebbs and flows of a team’s quality and performance over time.”

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The Oilers’ 3.3 per cent wasn’t the lowest a 0-3 team ever had in a series, Paine told Global News; that ignominious distinction belongs to the 1975 New York Islanders, who fought back to win the quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins despite having a 2.8 per cent chance of doing so.

But the Oilers’ score is “certainly the lowest that we’ve seen in the Stanley Cup Finals,” Paine said.

“It’s really shocking to see a team even come back and tie the series,” he said, because hockey is such a team game.

“If there’s a mismatch between the better team and the better player, the team with the better top-to-bottom team tends to win in the Stanley Cup final, historically speaking.”

Why it's hard to win

Kevin Lowe, who played for the Edmonton Oilers for 14 full seasons and won five Stanley Cup championships, told Global News coming back from a 0-3 deficit is difficult because many things can go wrong.

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“Typically, at this stage of the season, the teams are pretty evenly matched and it’s hard to beat a team four straight,” he said. “Even though you might be a far better team, once you get in your sequence of winning your games, it could be a five-minute penalty or there could be some freakish things that happen in the game.”

Lowe said looking at the first three games, the Oilers made mistakes that gave the Panthers the opportunity to create an offense that led to more goals.

He pointed to some of the first few goals by Florida in the series, saying they were ones that could be defended by “simple stick-on-puck plays” but due to those mistakes, the goals went in.

“If defenders — any normal defender you know — is doing the normal thing, in all likelihood … those two goals don’t even happen,” Lowe said. “It’s not like Florida made an unbelievable, offensive surge to create those goals. They still had to put it in the net.” 

He said after Game 3, an Oilers victory would have relied on the Edmonton team cleaning those mistakes up and eliminating the Panthers’ ability to score

Speaking ahead of Game 7, he said a victory for either team would be “amazing for the sport.”

“Florida wins its first Stanley Cup, and that’s a big thing,” he said.

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with files from Global News’ Eric Sorensen and Sean Previl

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