Fuhr 2023

Grant Fuhr studied the NHL.com questionnaire placed before him during his appearance at the 2020 Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

If the five-time Stanley Cup-champion goalie with the Edmonton Oilers paused on a few questions, “Shooter in today’s NHL you’d least like to face” was hastily answered with “Connor McDavid.”

Four years later, Fuhr sees no reason to change his mind.

“Connor is still the same choice,” Fuhr said early Wednesday morning from Palm Desert, California, headed to the golf course. “Any time you skate as well as he does, and your hands keep up, it’s hard on a goalie.

“His assist on Corey Perry’s goal (in Game 5 on Tuesday) is speed and control of the puck with the hands. If McDavid’s hands keep up with his feet, he’s unbelievable. He can make guys look bad.”

Fuhr 1985

Grant Fuhr with the Stanley Cup in the Edmonton Oilers’ Northlands Coliseum dressing room after the team’s 1985 championship win.

McDavid, arguably the greatest player in the NHL today, has thrown his team, city and province -- even his country -- on his back the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.

The captain’s consecutive four-point games with Edmonton facing elimination has twice left the historic trophy polished without presentation, the Oilers having clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to force Game 6 on home ice Friday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

If the Stanley Cup is glowing, maybe it’s from airport X-ray machines, having started the Final in Florida, travelled up to Edmonton for a potential awarding after Game 4, flown back to Florida for Game 5 and now back up to Edmonton again.

Game 7, if necessary, would be played in Sunrise, Florida, on June 24.

The Oilers’ dramatic surge has kept alive Canada’s hope of ending a 31-year national drought, the 1993 Montreal Canadiens the last team from north of the border having won the Stanley Cup.

Fuhr quiz

Grant Fuhr’s answers to an NHL.com questionnaire, completed during the 2020 Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

On six occasions since that championship, a team based in Canada has come up short in the Final, four times losing in Game 7; the Oilers were among them, falling in seven in 2006 to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Fuhr, like many, saw the Oilers with a foot in a shallow grave when they trailed the Panthers 3-0.

“I had a really good feeling that they’d win one game in Edmonton for sure,” he said. “And I figured If they had the opportunity to go back to Florida, they could drag it out and make it a long series. That’s what it looks like now.

“If anything, Edmonton might now have the edge with momentum. They’re riding the wave, and they have the home crowd behind them. I’d guess they’re just focused on 20 minutes at a time and trying to win each period. A lot of times that plays in your favor.

“If you’re Florida, you’re looking to clinch and win the Cup. That’s the hardest victory in sports: win that last game and close somebody out. Sometimes you look at the prize at the end of the rainbow instead of the process to get you that prize.

Fuhr catch

Grant Fuhr makes a glove save during Game 3 of the 1985 Campbell Conference Final against the Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium.

“Having your back to the wall takes the fear out of making a mistake,” Fuhr said. “You’re almost afraid to make a mistake when you have a 3-0 lead. There’s a big difference between having the lead and chasing it. When you have the lead, you take the foot off the gas pedal a little bit, play protectively. When you’re chasing, you just hit the gas and go.”

Fuhr has been up to his eyebrows in hockey, watching his former team stickhandle through their 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games while working as a broadcast analyst for the American Hockey League’s Coachella Valley Firebirds.

On Tuesday, the Firebirds defeated the Hershey Bears 6-2 in Game 3 of the best-of-7 Calder Cup Final.

Coachella Valley is two victories from the championship with Games 4 and 5 on home ice Thursday and Saturday, conveniently bookending Game 6 of the Oilers-Panthers series.

Fuhr Willie

Enshrined Builder Willie O'Ree (right) receives his Honoured Members plaque from Grant Fuhr during the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Toronto.

“It’s worked out well,” Fuhr said of the schedule. “I’ve been watching hockey every night. And I snuck up to Los Angeles to see the Oilers in Game 3 of the first round (a 6-1 Oilers victory against the Kings).”

As always, goaltending has been in a megawatt spotlight, Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky outdueling Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner the first three games and said by many at that time to be a virtual lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the postseason.

Bobrovsky shut out the Oilers 3-0 in Game 1, making 32 saves, was beaten just once on 19 shots in a 4-1 Game 2 win, then stopped 32 more in the Panthers’ 4-3 Game 3 victory.

But McDavid changed the narrative with his herculean effort in Games 4 and 5, scoring a goal and three assists in an 8-1 blowout, then two goals and two assists in a 5-3 squeaker on Tuesday. Many now suggest that win or lose, the Oilers leader is the only Conn Smythe choice, currently ranked first in playoff points, with 42, and assists, with 34.

Fuhr Gretzky

Goalie Grant Fuhr and teammate Wayne Gretzky pose for an early 1980s photo at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

While Bobrovsky was beaten five times on 16 shots in Game 4 and four times on 23 shots in Game 5, Skinner was standing on his head, making 61 saves on 65 shots in consecutive elimination games.

Skinner has a .902 series save percentage and 2.67 goals-against average through five Stanley Cup Final games, fractionally better than the .896 and 2.97 of Bobrovsky, the 2013 and 2017 Vezina Trophy winner who is a finalist for the award this season.

The past two games, Skinner’s .938 was far superior to Bobrovsky’s .769.

“With Stuart, for some reason, his numbers are phenomenal in Games 4 through 7,” Fuhr said. “Games 1 through 3, not so much. Is it a matter of him bearing down? He plays better when his back is against the wall. He made a huge save in Game 4 when it was 2-1 and that turned the tide. He did the same thing [Tuesday] night when it was 0-0 and it changed the momentum of the game.

Fuhr stick

Grant Fuhr makes a stick save during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 26, 1988, at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

“Then look at Sergei. Edmonton wins Game 1 if he doesn’t stand on his head. The Oilers played really well, but Sergei was the difference.”

Fuhr won the Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990, Bill Ranford going the entire way in 1990 when a shoulder injury kept his fellow goalie out of the postseason.

Fuhr won 56 and lost 14 during his four Cup-bound seasons of action with a save percentage of .899 and goals against of 2.87.

With his Oilers now heading to Game 6, the 2003 Hall of Famer will take your word for it that his Stanley Cup Final record in a sixth game is 0-1, a 3-2 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on May 28, 1987. Three nights later, he surrendered just one goal in a 3-1, Cup-clinching victory on home ice.

Fuhr crouch

Grant Fuhr prepares for a face-off during a 1983 game at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

Even in this analytics-rich age, only one playoff statistic matters to Fuhr: wins versus losses.

“For a goalie, playoff hockey is simple,” he said. “It’s not about save percentage or goals-against average. It’s about making the right save at the right time to change the momentum of a game or win a game.

“That’s the fun part of being a goalie in the playoffs -- you make a difference every game, whether it’s good or bad. You’ll get the credit or the blame.”

Fuhr will be on his living room couch for Game 6, hoping his Oilers send this remarkable series back to Florida for a sudden-death finale.

Fuhr broadcast

Coachella Valley Firebirds broadcast host Gino LaMont (left) with analyst Grant Fuhr (right) and ice-level analyst Matt Tennyson.

“I think it’s going to be one of those 2-1 games,” he said. “Both goalies are going to have to stand on their head. In the elimination phase, things are awfully tough. You’re going to have to look at your best players offensively: (Panthers captain Aleksander) Barkov, McDavid, Zach Hyman, who’s had a great year for Edmonton.

“You’re going to need your veterans to step up and be your best players. We were pretty fortunate. ‘Mess’ and ‘Gretz’ (Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky) stepped up for our teams when they had to.”

A robust goaltending duel in a game that wins the Stanley Cup, or pushes the series to the limit, is pretty much perfect for a goalie who’s won hockey’s most coveted prize five times.

“Once you get to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s going to be a goaltending show,” Fuhr said. “And I enjoy that immensely.”

Top photo: Grant Fuhr has fun with a group of young players during the Edmonton Oilers’ youth hockey program event at Rogers Place before the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Oct. 28, 2023.

Related Content