Oilers top Stars 2-1 for West title, will play Florida in the Stanley Cup Final


EDMONTON, Alberta — For the Edmonton Oilers, the journey from worst to first in the Western Conference is complete. And now a chance at the Stanley Cup is their reward.

Connor McDavid had a goal and an assist in the opening period to get Edmonton going, Stuart Skinner stopped 34 shots for his hometown team and the Oilers capped an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final by beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Sunday night.

Zach Hyman also scored — like McDavid, on a first-period power play — and Evan Bouchard had two assists for the Oilers, who won the Western Conference final in six games and will play for the Cup for the first time since 2006.

They’ll be heading to Florida for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, that series set to open on Saturday night. At 2,540 miles between Edmonton and Sunrise, Florida, it’s the longest distance between Stanley Cup Final opponents in NHL history.

“When the horn went off, that’s the loudest I ever heard it,” McDavid told Sportsnet amid the on-ice postgame celebration as Edmonton fans chanted “We want the Cup” over and over. “Special place to play, honestly. So much history. And these fans, it was great to hear their support.”

Mason Marchment scored midway through the third period and Jake Oettinger stopped eight shots for the Stars, who finished the regular season with the second-best record in the NHL — 113 points, just one behind the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

But the Stars, just like the Rangers, let a 2-1 lead in the conference finals get away. Dallas scored five goals in Game 3 to take the series lead; the Stars managed four goals, total, in the next three games.

“I would probably argue that was our best game of the series,” Stars forward Jamie Benn said. “Didn’t go our way.”

Oettinger went to the bench with about 2:20 to go, but the Stars got only two shots the rest of the way, their desperate tries to tie the game and extend the series coming up short.

“Proud of our group, proud of our fight, proud of our battle,” Stars coach Peter DeBoer said. You’re just gutted. They did leave everything out there. We should be going to play a Game 7, we’re not. You have to give Edmonton credit. Their power play particularly over the last two games was good, their goaltender was good. It’s fine lines when you get to this point of the year, and they were on the right side of it. … It’s tough to swallow.”

Just by getting to the Cup final, Edmonton has done something truly extraordinary — making the title series after finding itself 10 points out of a playoff spot during the regular season. Entering games on Nov. 24, the Oilers were 5-12-1, 10 points back of Seattle and St. Louis for the final wild-card spot in the West and 19 points behind Vegas for the top spot in the conference.

Those days are long forgotten now.

That’s when the Oilers — a couple weeks after Kris Knoblauch took over as coach for Jay Woodcroft, who was dismissed following a 3-9-1 start — went on an eight-game winning streak and began the long climb out of the NHL’s basement.

Starting with that eight-game win streak, the Oilers — who had a 16-game winning streak not long after the eight-game run ended — were the best team in the NHL for the remainder of the regular season. They were 44-15-5 the rest of the way, leading the league in goals (239) and goal differential (plus-76) in that span.

And now, the final awaits. Much like the Panthers on Saturday night, the Oilers didn’t touch the conference championship trophy in the postgame celebration. It’s the bigger trophy that they’re seeking.

“We’re not done here. This is just one step in the right direction for us,” Edmonton’s Mattias Ekholm said.

Edmonton is just the third team in NHL history to make the final after being 10 points or more out of a playoff spot; the others were Toronto in 1958-59 and St. Louis in 2018-19. The Blues won the Cup that season.

The Oilers had only three shots in the first period of Game 6. They were enough.

McDavid opened the scoring with a spectacular goal, weaving through traffic before beating Oettinger up high for a 1-0 lead.

“Connor McDavid, doing Connor McDavid things,” Skinner said.

Added Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl: “There’s one player in the world that can make things like that happen.”

McDavid then found Hyman in the slot for another power-play score late in the first; the shots at that point were 6-3 Dallas, but the score was 2-0 Edmonton and the Oilers were on their way. The Oilers finished with only 10 shots on goal, the fewest by a team in a playoff win since 1990.

“We hung in there. We got it done,” McDavid said. “Everyone deserves it.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL





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