Oilers' penalty kill has made a major difference in the Stanley Cup Final against the Panthers


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EDMONTON, Alberta — For all the talk going into the Stanley Cup Final about the Edmonton Oilers' vaunted power play and how Florida might have to adjust to stay out of the box, their penalty kill has actually been one of the biggest difference makers in the series.

Edmonton has killed off 19 of 20 penalties, including three in a 5-1 victory in Game 6 on Friday night to force a deciding Game 7 on Monday night in Sunrise.

"In every series, you work hard at the start of the series, get a little momentum, a little confidence," said forward Mattias Janmark, who has skated 13 minutes on the PK in the final and scored one of the Oilers' two short-handed goals. "They get on their heels maybe a little bit, we get on our toes and get the upper hand. But the next game, they're probably looking over there at the one goal they can score in the next game, so we're going to have to be at our best next game."

With Janmark, linemate Connor Brown and defensemen Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse — plus, of course, goaltender Stuart Skinner — leading the way, the Oilers' penalty kill is converting at an NHL playoff-best 94.1%, allowing just four goals on 68 opposing power plays.

"We're playing with instinct and fast and closing things down," Nurse said. "When the block needs to be made, guys are making blocks. It's good. I think we're doing it. I think for us even when we have success, we're always trying to evolve and be even more on our toes."

So on their toes that the penalty kill has outscored the Panthers power play 2-1 in the series. The Oilers were the first team since the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux and Bob Errey) to score a short-handed goal in consecutive Cup final games.

That's the result of taking Florida out of a rhythm and having the speed and talent to go the other way. Skinner pointed to winning a faceoff during a penalty kill in Game 6 as one example of being able to set the tone.

"Guys are just battling really hard," said Skinner, who made four short-handed saves Friday night. "We're keeping guys on the outside in the neutral zone, and when they do get their chances, we get big blocks. I think we just got a really good flow going right now, and we've gotten a lot of opportunities on the PK so for us to have that sort of chemistry has been great and we've got to do that for another game."

Coach Kris Knoblauch delegates penalty killing duties to assistant Mark Stuart, a retired defenseman who skated plenty of these shifts during a 12-year NHL career. Nurse said Stuart does a good job preparing players for what to expect, and the system is working.

"They're prepared," Knoblauch said. "They know what to do. I think we have a good system for the group that we have."

Knoblauch also senses confidence from his penalty kill, which has been building now for four rounds. That's turning into smart plays and not a whole lot of mistakes, something that has fueled Edmonton's comeback from down 3-0 in the final.

"I feel like we're doing a good job of cleaning up sticks and being physical, and when we've had the chance to clear the puck, we've been getting our clears, too, so it's a good recipe," Nurse said. "It's been good, been instinctual, been fast, shutting stuff down, but we've got to do it again."

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

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Stephen Whyno

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