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Why Are the Oilers the Underdogs in the Stanley Cup Final?

The Florida Panthers are considered heavy favorites over the Edmonton Oilers in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final? What gives them the edge?

As the 2024 Stanley Cup Final approaches, many fans and analysts are wondering why the Edmonton Oilers are considered underdogs against the Florida Panthers. Despite having superstar players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers are facing widespread skepticism. Pierre LeBrun put together an article curating the responses of 33 NHL head coaches and team executives. It showed a staggering preference for the Panthers, with only four predicting an Oilers victory. But why is this the case?

Florida’s Forecheck and Defensive Pressure

One of the primary reasons the Panthers are favored is their relentless forechecking and defensive pressure. Florida’s ability to force mistakes from the opposing defense is seen as a significant advantage. The Oilers faced similar pressure from the Kings and Canucks, but not at this level. The Panthers are better team than both of Edmonton’s previous two opponents and the Stars weren’t physical at all.

This persistent pressure can wear down even the most skilled defensemen, potentially leading to costly errors that the Panthers can exploit. Edmonton’s defense will need to be at its best to withstand this onslaught. Whether they are deep enough to do so is a real concern.

Goaltending Concerns for Oilers

Goaltending is another area where the Panthers are perceived to have the upper hand. While Igor Shesterkin delivered a stellar performance against Florida in previous rounds, questions remain about whether Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner can replicate such heroics. He was fantastic against Dallas, but can he continue that kind of play? His inconsistencies in the playoffs suggest he can’t.

Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, who has returned to top form, provides a sense of stability and reliability that could prove crucial in a high-stakes series.

Center Depth and Physical Play of the Panthers

Florida boasts a championship-caliber center lineup with Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, and Anton Lundell. These centers are not only skilled but also physically imposing, traits that are particularly valuable in the playoffs. This depth at center is expected to help Florida neutralize Edmonton’s top forwards, McDavid and Draisaitl, both of whom are known for their offensive prowess but will be challenged by the Panthers’ physicality.

Oilers vs Panthers Stanley Cup Final: Barkov vs McDavid

Credit should go to the Oilers center depth too. They can run several combinations of pivots with McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique, and others in a depth role. The Oilers may not choose to play some of these players at wing, but they can still take draws and are defensively sound.

Florida’s depth extends beyond their centers. The team’s overall physicality and ability to adapt their play style to different situations make them tough to eliminate. Their strategy of wearing down opponents through relentless physical play and maintaining possession in the offensive zone can sap the energy of even the most resilient teams.

Experience and Resilience Goes to Florida

The Panthers’ experience from last year’s deep playoff run is another factor contributing to their favoritism. Having reached the Finals before, Florida’s players are battle-tested and understand the demands of the playoffs. Their ability to maintain composure and resilience under pressure gives them an edge over the Oilers, who might struggle against such a relentless and seasoned opponent.

Special teams play is an area where the Oilers are expected to excel, but what happens if Florida does a good job of slowing down the power play and proving Edmonton’s penalty kill be scored on?

The Edmonton Oilers possess immense talent and have the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. But, the comprehensive strengths of the Florida Panthers in forechecking, goaltending, center depth, experience, physical play, make them the clear favorites among most analysts and insiders.

Next: Oilers’ Evander Kane Expected for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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