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The Edmonton Oilers face a steep climb to get back into the Stanley Cup Final, trailing the Florida Panthers 2-0 with Game 3 at home on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, CBC, TVAS, SN, ESPN+, ABC).

At home in New Westminster, British Columbia, Bill Ranford will be watching as a fan, as a coach, and as an Oilers alumnus, the last Edmonton goalie to have pressed the sterling trophy overhead.

And Ranford, the Los Angeles Kings’ director of goaltending who on Wednesday was studying goalie free agency and organizing his end of the team’s 2024 NHL Draft list, admits that he’s cheering now more for people than a team, no matter that he twice won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers.

“I have Oilers blood in me. When you play for close to 10 years for an organization, you’ve got some involvement in it,” Ranford said. “That said, this is a tough one. I have the Oilers connection and I know their goalie coach (Dustin Schwartz) well.

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Los Angeles Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford keeps an eye on prospects during the team’s open goaltending tryouts in September 2017.

“But Robb Tallas (goalie coach), who I played with in Boston, and Jamie Kompon (assistant coach), who I worked with in L.A., are on the Florida staff. I’m cheering more for individuals than for a team, but I can’t take the Oilers blood out of me.”

Ranford is using the Stanley Cup Final as a study tool, as he does every game he watches.

“In my position with the Kings, I’m always looking at and watching what other goalies are doing, how they’re handling plays,” he said. “It’s just ingrained in me. I’m always wanting to learn and the only way you get better is by being smart enough to realize that you don’t have all the answers. If you can learn something by watching, you do that.”

On Thursday, as he did for Games 1 and 2 and will as long as this Final runs, Ranford will be studying Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and the Oilers’ Stuart Skinner. While Bobrovsky has held the thunderous one-two Edmonton punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to a single assist in 3-0 and 4-1 Florida wins, he doesn’t believe the Panthers' brick wall has gotten inside the heads of the two Oilers snipers.

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Bill Ranford studies the action during Game 2 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins at Boston Garden.

“Both are pretty high-intelligent-functioning individuals,” Ranford said. “I don’t know if you can get in their heads. They’ve got that hockey IQ, they’ll look for different ways of putting the puck in the net. That’s why they’re two of the best in the world. …

“And Skinner has played well, too. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a reset that he’ll do for Game 3. He’s had an up-and-down playoffs but he’s found a way to elevate his game when needed. He’ll have to do that one more time. It’s just tough when the other guy is playing so well in the other end.

“That’s how I always approached it: when you’re in a playoff series, you’ve got to be better than the guy at the other end. That’s how I challenged myself. There’s no doubt in my mind that Stuart Skinner is going to do the same thing.”

Ranford knows the stiff challenge that faces a playoff goaltender, having watched one Stanley Cup Final from the bench and starring in a second one.

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Bill Ranford sprawls out to make the save during a game for his Edmonton Oilers against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

He won two championships with the Oilers -- in 1988, as a trade-deadline acquisition from the Boston Bruins who watched as Grant Fuhr went a fabulous 16-2 wire-to-wire; and in 1990, going 16-6, playing every game after a recurring shoulder injury ended Fuhr’s season one game before the start of the playoffs.

His name has been added to the trophy twice more, as goaltending coach for the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.

In May 2023, after 17 years in that role, the native of Brandon, Manitoba was named the Kings’ director of goaltending to oversee the organization’s goalie coaching, development, programming and scouting.

Ranford had played just four career postseason games when he began the 1990 playoffs, with an 0-4 record for the Bruins in 1986 and 1987, and gone 24-16-9 during the 1989-90 regular season that saw him deal with a sprained ankle and concussion.

Expectations beyond the organization were modest in the view of many.

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Oilers goalie Bill Ranford makes a save during Game 5 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final at Boston Garden.

His Oilers playoff debut -- six goals allowed in a 7-5 First Round Game 1 loss at home against the Winnipeg Jets -- brought out the wolves.

“Oh, Grant, are you healthy?” and “Ranford was no Vezina” headlined stories in the Edmonton Journal the following morning, the goalie carved for leftovers by fans and many in the media.

“Ranford answer to Jet prayers,” the Winnipeg Sun echoed sarcastically.

But it was all just noise to the Oilers; president/GM Glen Sather, coach John Muckler and every player rallied to Ranford’s side, confident in his ability to rebound.

“John and the staff put together a video montage the day after Game 1 of me making saves, basically saying, ‘Win or lose, you’re our guy,’” Ranford said.

“That was a real confidence booster. The fact I was carved -- that’s pretty much what it was by the media – is what drove me in the playoffs, to prove them wrong. It was bittersweet at the end.”

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Bill Ranford hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy, which he was awarded as most valuable player of the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ranford indeed rebounded, lifting the Oilers to a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. Two Winnipeg victories followed, a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 4 putting Edmonton’s back to the wall. But Ranford anchored three straight elimination-game wins -- two of them by a single goal -- to lift his team to the Second Round against the Kings.

“The amazing feat was coming back and winning after being down 3-1 to Winnipeg,” he said.

The Oilers then swept Los Angeles, went six games against Chicago, and dusted the Bruins in a five-game Final.

The howls of discontent about Winnipeg were long silent by Game 1 against Boston, Ranford making 50 saves in a magnificent 3-2 triple-overtime victory. A 2-1 loss in Game 3 was the only bump the rest of the way, with 5-1 and 4-1 victories giving the Oilers their most recent championship.

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Los Angeles Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford celebrates the team’s 2012 championship with Jonathan Quick, posing with the Clarence Campbell Bowl, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. At right, Ranford pressed the 2014 Stanley Cup overhead following the Kings’ second victory in three years.

Ranford, thrown under the bus 21 games earlier, was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the postseason.

“I was fortunate to be part of the 1988 Cup run (backup to Fuhr), watching and learning the importance of having not too many highs or lows, of being prepared,” he said. “When you play in a Canadian city, the media are way different than in other cities. There was no social media but we had around-the-clock shows and were the No. 1 story on the news and sports.

“When you play in Canada, you’re in that fishbowl. You’d better have your head about you and be strong-willed to deal with it. That’s what I learned in 1988. It didn’t start off well in 1990 but I learned as I went along.”

If the First Round overtime Game 2 win against Winnipeg was hugely important, Ranford doesn’t believe it compared in any way to the triple-overtime of Game 1 against the Bruins, 21 of his 50 saves coming after 60 minutes.

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Bill Ranford takes the 2014 Stanley Cup for a spin in New Westminster, British Columbia, having won the championship for the second time in three years as the Los Angeles Kings’ goalie coach.

“Ask anybody, there’s a difference playing in the First, Second and Third Round and then there’s the Final. It’s a whole other game in the Final,” he said. “You’re under the microscope, everybody in the world is watching you. Until you’ve played in a Final, you have no idea.

“Game 1 in Boston was a whole other level. Honestly, it got to the point where I just wanted it to end. I was so physically and mentally fatigued. They were the biggest demons I had to fight that night. With the Garden lights going out, the fog, that many overtimes … we ate at 1 o’clock in the afternoon then not again until 2 in the morning.”

It was years before Ranford would see his name engraved on the Conn Smythe Trophy, and it was only last year that it was pointed out to him that his name is directly beneath that of Jonathan Quick, the 2012 winner he coached with the Kings.

“I don’t know if it even sunk in,” he said of winning the Smythe. “I always say it’s a team trophy because you can’t win it without the team in front of you. Now, looking back, you understand that your name is on it and nobody can take it off.”

Top photo: Bill Ranford skates with the Stanley Cup at Boston Garden on May 24, 1990 after the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.