The Oilers ignored any concerns about the Panthers’ physicality

“This is a great series,” an alleged insider told me before Game 7 of the Edmonton-Vancouver, Round 2 series. “But none of these teams are going to be able to handle the Dallas Stars. They’re too deep. Too good.”

“Stars depth” was an issue that remained a topic of discussion during the lead up to Round 3, with a wind of 100 “experts” spreading the story like wildfire across northern Alberta.

As it turned out, Dallas was so deep that in Game 6 in Edmonton, the Stars’ third defense pairing barely played more than six minutes, while top player Miro Heiskanen played 30:28 minutes. Up front, this depth was so dangerous, that veterans Joe Pavelski and Matt Duchene finished the series with zero points between them.

Dallas’ fourth-liners, a group that included Sam Steele, Evgenii Dadonov, Craig Smith and Radek Faksa? They had two assists and zero goals in six games. And don’t get me started on the goaltending, where Jake Oettinger (series save percentage .907) was considered far superior to Stuart Skinner (.922).

Depth indeed.

This time the story revolves around the “physicality” of the Florida Panthers, a character trait that will surely topple an Oilers team that checks in as formidable underdogs among my brother punters.

Take that theory inside the Oilers dressing room, and it seems Connor McDavid and his teammates respect the Panthers’ toughness as much as they did Dallas’ great depth.

Nobody is disrespecting Florida, but nobody seems very scared either. “It’s the playoffs. It’s the Finals. “Florida plays a fast, aggressive game. Of course, Florida is better. But are they also somehow more robust? In their last eight playoff series over the last three springs, these Oilers have faced a number of opponents whose game plan was to throw them off their game. Could it really be any different?

We’ve shown that over the last several months,” said Leon Draisaitl, who, at 6 feet-2 inches and 209 pounds, is one of the most productive playoff performers of his era. He has never been shut out of a series to date. We can win games in any form.” And what if it becomes a case of everybody getting beat up? Can the Oilers stand up to the Big Bad Panthers the way they beat Dallas?

For one thing, Edmonton is a bigger team, with the average player standing six feet two inches tall and weighing 203 pounds. The average Panther is six feet one inch and weighing 198 pounds.

The Oilers are 29.4 years older to 27.9 years old – and they have played more NHL games: 14,168 to 12,132. So they’ve pretty much seen and experienced everything. None of that matters, except that a team of Edmonton’s size – though it can obviously be beaten – is in no way about being knocked out of the series.

“Obviously, we like to play with the puck, but we’re certainly not afraid of physicality. We handled it well in the Vancouver series, handled it well in the LA series as well. Dallas was a little different, but we’re a good team. We’ll be ready to play.

“The game will be played a little differently, the style will be different, but for me, personally, it won’t change much.” Back to the blue line, Edmonton’s defence corps averages six-foot-three and a half and 208 pounds. That doesn’t include six-foot-seven, 226-pound Vincent Desharnais, who is on call when his presence is needed.

Florida’s d-corps averages six-foot-two, 201 pounds. That’s an inch and seven pounds less weight per d-man, which certainly isn’t a guarantee of victory for the Oilers. But a smaller d-corps could make Florida more vulnerable to a physical forecheck than Edmonton.

And then, of course, the extra hits and power resulting from the scrum after the whistle Plays happen. Any of the Oilers’ past opponents would warn Florida to make this series a special-teams contest at their own peril. As we know, the Oilers have the best power play and penalty kill in these playoffs. “I expect scrums, (but) we’re a veteran team, one of the older teams in the league. I don’t think that stuff bothers guys here.” That’s the big myth. On Saturday, we’ll find out just how real it is.