EDM at buzzer for main story Game 7

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The jubilant lyrics of “Feel This Moment” by Pitbull and Christina Aguilera could be heard in and around the Edmonton Oilers dressing room just 15 minutes after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final had ended.

But it wasn’t Edmonton celebrating. No, the noise was coming from the blaring sound system of Amerant Bank Arena, where the Florida Panthers were celebrating a 2-1 win on Monday that brought them the first championship in their history and ended what had been a gutsy effort by the Oilers.

“It’s devastating,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said, the music still playing in the background. “You go through an entire year, the 25 games in the playoffs and you just battle through everything and you get the closest you can ever come.

“I mean, you’re one goal away from sending it to overtime. It’s heartbreaking.”

What had to hurt even more for Edmonton was the fact that it forced Game 7 after losing the first three games of the Final. And then, trailing 2-1 in the third period, it threw everything it had at Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky only to come up one goal short, one game short of its ultimate goal.

“It hurts. It’s more painful but I definitely would not have wanted to lose in four games,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “I liked how our team responded and pushed. We were so close. We lost to a good team.”

The loss capped a season that saw Edmonton take plenty of hits only to get up off the mat again, again and again.

The Oilers making the Stanley Cup Final, let alone the postseason, seemed a long shot in November, when they stumbled out to a 2-9-1 start.

But on Nov. 12, coach Jay Woodcroft was fired and replaced by Knoblauch. The Oilers went 47-18-5 the rest of the way, the best record in the NHL over that period. That run included an eight-game winning streak and a franchise-record 16-game win streak.

They trailed the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the Western Conference Second Round but rallied to win in seven games. They trailed the Dallas Stars 2-1 in the Western Conference Final only to win the next four. In the Cup Final, they lost the first three games but forced Game 7 with three straight wins.

But with a chance to cap the greatest comeback in the NHL since 1942, they fell one game short.

“Just the resilience of the group. We went through a lot of ups and downs and came that close,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “I’m really proud, proud of the way we fought all year. We were behind the 8-ball almost immediately and fought an uphill climb for months and months and months and it [stinks].”

SCF, Gm7: Oilers @ Panthers Recap

They fell behind the 8-ball early on Monday when Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe opened the scoring at 4:27 of the first period. Edmonton, as it has done all season, came right back with Mattias Janmark tying the game at 6:44. It stayed 1-1 until Sam Reinhart beat Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner under the glove with a wrist shot at 15:11 of the second.

The Oilers did all they could in the third, putting nine shots on Bobrovsky, but though he bent, he would not break.

Janmark said the margin of victory and defeat was slim in this game, but the better team won the Stanley Cup.

“They get a bounce on a goal. Bobrovsky stands tall in the third,” Janmark said. "We have our looks, we have our chances, we [Evan Bouchard] hit the post in the third.

“You can analyze it to death if you want to, but at the end of the night, when somebody beats you in a seven-game series, they are the better team. Good for them, but we were darn close and we are going to be back next year.”

When the final seconds of the game, the Final and the season wound down, McDavid seemed exhausted, having played 25:42, including 9:56, or practically half, of the third period.

He finished the postseason with 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists), and even won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs.

But after becoming the second skater in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe as a member of the losing team (Reggie Leach, 1976 Philadelphia Flyers), all he wanted to talk about was his teammates and how hard they fought to get to Game 7.

“It goes back to the character of the group that we showed all year long,” McDavid said. “We showed all year long that we could fight back, even in the most dire situations. It’s obviously tough to be down three and it’s tough to win four in a row against a team like that, but we were right there."

Hyman, with the celebratory music still playing in the background, was asked if the Oilers’ Cup-or-bust season should be viewed as a bust because they came up short.

“It’s hard to look at it black and white. You don’t make the playoffs, then you’re looking at the season as a failure,” Hyman said. “We come a shot away from sending it to overtime. We battled back from three-nothing. We battled back from 3-2 in Vancouver, we battled back from being near the basement in November; 10 points out of a playoff spot.

“So not, I don’t think it’s a failure. I think it’s a huge opportunity to learn from.”

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