Stanley Cup Final Game 7 mega-preview: What's at stake, key players to watch, picks

It has all come down to this. After the Florida Panthers opened up a 3-0 lead on the Edmonton Oilers in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, many believed the series to be all but over.

Then Connor McDavid and his friends outscored the Panthers by a combined score of 18-5 en route to tying the series up at three games apiece, becoming just the third team in NHL history to do so in the Stanley Cup Final.

Will the Oilers pull off the historic reverse sweep? Can the Panthers avoid ignominy? Here’s everything you need to know before puck drop tonight, including what’s at stake for each team, key players to watch and advanced matchup metrics from ESPN Stats & Information.

Jump ahead: What’s at stake?
Players to watch, picks
Key stats for Game 7


What’s at stake for the Panthers?

Reputation. And we’re not talking (underrated) Taylor Swift albums.

The Panthers had been afterthoughts for most of the franchise’s history. Florida lost in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final and then made just four playoff appearances — without winning a round — through the next 23 years. It was a team players aspired to join at the end of their careers, when it was more about the temperate climate and less about potential to win. And the Panthers were used to an arena filled with opposing fans capitalizing on their cheap tickets in a sunny locale not readily available in most hockey markets. A nice perk perhaps, but hardly a foundation upon which to build a thriving culture.

That’s what Florida has now, though. GM Bill Zito has methodically crafted the Panthers into a true top-tier contender. He turned Florida into a President’s Trophy winner and, when that didn’t translate to postseason success, had the courage to trade his club’s best player (Jonathan Huberdeau) for Matthew Tkachuk in a blockbuster swap that might have ended horribly for Florida. But it didn’t. Zito grabbed low-risk, high-reward players such as Gustav Forsling (off waivers) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (post-buyout) who have played key roles for them in this dominant season. If last year’s run to the Final was a fluke, this year’s berth was anything but. Florida was supposed to be this good. The Panthers were meant to be at this pinnacle and provide it repeatedly with their play throughout the playoffs.

If they let this opportunity to be Cup champions slip away after holding a 3-0 lead in this series, that’s a dagger in more ways than one. Florida can write a chapter on its history now that even five years ago might have seemed like a pipe dream. The only question for the Panthers now is: Are you ready for it?


What’s at stake for the Oilers?

In a word, legacy. Edmonton is one of those places where winning just isn’t enough. There must be something additional about the way the team won.

The Oilers haven’t just won five Stanley Cups. They won five Stanley Cups in seven seasons. They didn’t simply have great players. They had some of the greatest players of all time, with one of them being the greatest to ever play hockey. Winning this particular Stanley Cup not only adds to their legacy, but enhances it even more. A franchise that has gone from being the standard to being in the cellar is now a win away from returning to the pinnacle; it’s a chance to pull off what would become the greatest comeback in NHL history, and maybe the greatest comeback in North American professional sports.

The more sobering truth is that this could be the Oilers’ best and/or possibly only chance to win a Stanley Cup with Leon Draisaitl and McDavid, because there is no guarantee they can get back to this position. Edmonton has gone through front office, coaching, personnel and philosophical changes to do everything possible to win with a pair of generational talents. Winning Game 7 and the Stanley Cup would prove all those decisions correct. Not that losing Game 7 and the Stanley Cup would condemn every aspect of the franchise’s path. But it would lead to more questions at a time when Draisaitl is heading into the final year of his contract as he and McDavid enter their late 20s.

Winning Game 7 would give the Oilers an opportunity to say they won it regardless what happens going forward. Losing Game 7 would only make the path forward slightly more painful to navigate knowing they were this close. — Ryan S. Clark


Who is the one key player you’ll be watching for the Panthers?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Sergei Bobrovsky. He went from being a win away from capturing his first Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe, to now facing questions about what has gone wrong with both him and his teammates. Losing Game 7 and the Stanley Cup as a whole would not be entirely on Bobrovsky. The Panthers have struggled to defend their zone and haven’t provided the level of offensive support needed to help any goaltender. That said, Bobrovsky has also had his challenges that have compounded the Panthers’ problems. It all amounts to the fact that Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, would be one of the faces of a team who went from having a chance to sweep the Stanley Cup Final only to be on the other end of what would be one of the biggest collapses in sports history.

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: Carter Verhaeghe. Minus-11 through the past four games, he has one lonely assist since the series opener. Not so good. The top-line winger now has one contest remaining to save his team from suffering a legendary collapse and his own reputation as a clutch playoff performer. No one will remember the inferior numbers leading in if Verhaeghe manages to tangibly turn it around when it matters most.

Arda Öcal, NHL broadcaster: Gustav Forsling. As the Panthers have gone, so has Forsling. He was plus-4 in Games 1-3, minus-5 in Games 4-6. Will he be able to play that shutdown role in Game 7? Can he contain McDavid like he did in the first three games? Forsling will certainly get his flowers from hockey fans, even if his contributions might not receive the big headlines, but they certainly are important and critical to Florida’s success in Game 7 and ultimately raising the Stanley Cup.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Sam Reinhart. Reinhart has been noticeably missing in this Cup Final. One goal and two assists through six games — and zero points total in the past three when Florida had a chance to put Edmonton away? That’s shocking output from a skater who put up 57 goals in the regular season and produced 12 points in 17 postseason games prior to the Panthers facing the Oilers. Whatever has gone wrong for Reinhart so far, he’d better put it behind him in a hurry. Florida needs its best players to match what Edmonton has going from its stars in this series.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Matthew Tkachuk. Welp, here we are. The chance for a superstar to have a superstar moment. Tkachuk tied with Aleksander Barkov for the team lead in scoring (22 points), but you can count on one hand the number of games in which Tkachuk was a driving force for Florida. We caught a glimpse of that player in the Panthers’ Game 5 loss: Throwing the body, defending brilliantly and factoring on two goals. That was sandwiched by two minus-3 efforts, including Game 6, when his line with Sam Bennett and Evan Rodrigues was a major dud. A playoff run that has been more compilation than clutch will be immediately rewritten by an impactful Stanley Cup Final Game 7. A broken sternum cost him this kind of chance in 2023 against Vegas. This is his moment.

Who is the one key player you’ll be watching for the Oilers?

Clark: Connor McDavid. The fact he didn’t have a single shot on goal in Game 6 is wild, given that he’s the game’s best and most dominant player. But it also speaks to how the Oilers can win even if he doesn’t record a shot or a point. We’ve seen the Oilers rely on their entire roster to force a Game 7. If they can get another multipoint performance from McDavid in addition to the secondary and tertiary offense they produced in Game 6, it could prove too overwhelming en route to winning their first Stanley Cup in more than 30 years.

Matiash: Leon Draisaitl. It would seem a bit bizarre to watch the Oilers hoist the Cup following a seven-gamer when Draisaitl, even badly hobbled, didn’t score a single goal. Especially considering his postseason history and the handful of recent quality chances. Getting one of his own past Panthers goaltender Bobrovsky, along with a helper similar to Friday’s perfect pass to Warren Foegele to open the scoring in Game 6, would go a long way to sealing the deal for Edmonton.

Öcal: The obvious answer here is McDavid, but I’ll go with Draisaitl. He has three assists this series, which is surprising by his lofty standards. The Oilers won their first game without McDavid registering a point or a shot in Game 6, but they also pushed this to Game 7 without Draisaitl being the second-best player on the team, which he usually is. He had flashes of his usual self Friday; what if Monday is “The Draisaitl Game”?

Shilton: Zach Hyman. We can’t say Hyman is underrated, per se. But he has 16 goals in the playoffs (the most by any active player in a single postseason), and he tends to light the lamp in a timely fashion to boot. That’s going to be key for Edmonton in Game 7. Florida will be zeroed in on containing McDavid and Draisaitl, which should continue to give Hyman opportunity to do his thing. If the Oilers need a consistent performance in any facet of the game, they can count on Hyman to deliver. And he’s just fun to watch.

Wyshynski: Stuart Skinner. ​​Were it not for McDavid rewriting the record books, Skinner would have a legitimate claim to the Conn Smythe Trophy for his late-series mastery in every round. Skinner has a 10-0 record, a 1.50 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in Games 4-7 in the postseason. He’s 5-0 when facing elimination this postseason, only the eighth goalie to win five elimination games in a single postseason. In Edmonton’s past three wins, he has a 1.67 GAA and a .942 save percentage. Heck of a Mario Kart player, too.

The final score will be _____.

Clark: 4-3 Oilers. For one, that score line depicts the number of games won by each team in the Cup Final. Even with that prediction, there are questions. The Oilers have averaged six goals over their past three games against the Panthers. Can they have another offensive outburst, or will the Panthers have finally found an answer? Then there’s another question facing the Panthers with this scenario: Can they create the sort of consistency that allows them to keep pace with the Oilers, or could they be forced to climb out of what would be another sizable deficit in Game 7?

Matiash: 4-2 Oilers. After picking the Panthers to win Games 5 and 6, I’m still marveling that we’re even in the position to prognosticate scores for the final-for-sure game of the season. But give Kris Knoblauch’s crew full credit for fully figuring out how to chisel its way back into this thing. The optimistic chatter flowing out of Florida’s camp — “feeling positive” and “feeling excited” were phrases uttered to the media — isn’t sounding as convincing as earlier. Understandably so, as the Panthers have been outscored 18-5 since taking a 3-0 series lead.

Öcal: 3-2 Oilers, in overtime. Because that’s what this series needs. It has been a surreal journey to get here. The cherry on top would be one goal to award the Cup.

Shilton: 4-3 Panthers, in overtime. Listen, it would not surprise me in the least if Edmonton pounds its way to a historic Cup victory here (and more power to them if that’s the case; what a ride it has been). After all, I thought (and predicted) the Panthers would close this thing out two games ago. But here we are in Florida’s building, where the Cup won’t be leaving this time until it’s cradled in the arms of a player who just won it. When you talk about big moments — of the career- or franchise-defining type — this is it. The Panthers have no excuse. For one last time I’m betting that gives Florida a whisper-thin edge over Edmonton.

Wyshynski: 5-2 Oilers. I thought the Panthers would close out this series in Game 6 because they thrive when being counted out and getting to play the underdog. So there’s always a chance they channel that at home in Game 7. But that would also require a reversal of fortune for 90% of their roster that has been outplayed by the Oilers for the majority of the series. This feels like Edmonton’s moment. This feels like Canada’s moment. The Oilers just sent this thing to a seventh game without needing McDavid to carry them there — that should scare the whiskers off the Panthers. Edmonton wins the Cup, makes sports history and bestows shame upon this Florida team.


Notes from ESPN Stats & Information

Game 7 fast facts:

  • Monday will be the 18th Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final history, and the first since 2019 (St. Louis Blues defeated the Bruins in Boston)

  • Road teams have won three straight Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Final; home teams are 12-5 all time.

  • The Oilers will play in their third Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final (defeated Philadelphia Flyers in 1987, lost to Carolina Hurricanes in 2006).

  • Edmonton will be playing in its 13th playoff Game 7 in franchise history, and second this postseason (defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 in the second round). The Oilers are 8-4 overall in playoff Game 7s.

  • The Panthers will be playing in the fourth Game 7 in franchise history (2-0 on road, 0-1 at home). The home loss was to the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 conference quarterfinals.

Past teams to come from down 0-3 to tie a series 3-3

More on the Oilers

  • Edmonton scored 18 goals over the past three games to even up the series, tied for the second-most goals in a three-game span in a Stanley Cup Final. The Oilers held the Panthers to five goals during that span, giving them a plus-13 goal differential in Games 4-6, tied with the 1984 Oilers (plus-13 vs Islanders in Games 3-5 to close out the series) for the largest goal differential in a three-game span in Stanley Cup Final history.

  • The Oilers improved to 5-0 this postseason when facing elimination, the most such wins in a single postseason in franchise history and tied for the fourth most by any team in a single postseason. Only the 2014 Kings — who went 7-0 when facing elimination — have more wins without a loss in that situation in a single postseason.

  • The Oilers have recent history across sports on their side. The last home win in Game 7 in the championship series for MLB, the NBA or the NHL was by the Miami Heat in 2013. That is six straight Game 7 wins by the road team (2019 World Series, 2019 Cup Final, 2017 World Series, 2016 World Series, 2016 NBA Finals, 2014 World Series). The current six-game losing streak in Game 7s across the World Series, NBA Finals and Cup Final by home teams is the longest ever. The previous longest was four straight between May 1974 (Bucks lost to Celtics) and October 1979 (Orioles lost to Pirates). This is also the longest gap in terms of time. Game 7 on Monday will be 4,022 days since the Heat won at home in June 2013. The previous longest gap was 3,286 days between Oct. 21, 1973 (Oakland Athletics beat New York Mets), and Oct. 20, 1982 (St. Louis Cardinals beat Milwaukee Brewers).

More on the Panthers

  • The Panthers are going for their first Stanley Cup title in their third attempt (lost in 1996 and 2023) and are one of 11 active franchises to not have won the Stanley Cup. They can become the fourth expansion team over the past 40 seasons to win the Stanley Cup, joining the Lightning (2004, 2020-21), Ducks (2007) and Golden Knights (2023).

  • With a win, Florida becomes the third team in the expansion era (post-1967) to win the Cup the year after losing in the Final, along with the 2009 Penguins and 1984 Oilers. Last season, the Panthers lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games, including a 9-3 blowout in the Cup clincher.

  • Overall, it’s the 18th Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final history, with the home team owning a record of 12-5. The past three have been won by the road team, with the Penguins winning at Detroit in 2009, the Bruins topping Vancouver in 2011 and the Blues beating Boston in 2019. Don’t expect a high-scoring contest. The most goals any team has scored in Game 7 of the Cup Final is four, done on five occasions, most recently by the Blues in 2019. The most combined goals in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final is seven in 1950 (Detroit 4, Rangers 3).

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