Oilers strike back with Game 4 blowout: Grades, takeaways and a look ahead to Game 5

NHL

Well, THAT was unexpected.

On the verge of being swept in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, the Edmonton Oilers dominated the Florida Panthers en route to a 8-1 victory in Game 4. The series now heads back to Sunrise, Florida, with the Panthers looking for the “gentleman’s sweep” (winning in five games).

There were many notable events in this one, including Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring goals for the first time all series, and Sergei Bobrovsky being pulled for the first time all postseason.

We’re here to break it all down for you. Here are our grades for both teams, along with takeaways that stuck out the most, key players to watch for Game 5 and the big questions left unanswered prior to Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Panthers grade: C-

Florida was probably due for a dud. The Panthers had been on a dominant run through the playoffs — they entered Game 4 on a six-game win streak — and looked tired out from the start.

Sergei Bobrovsky had been the Panthers’ backbone, and even he couldn’t salvage anything for Florida, being pulled after allowing five goals midway through the contest.

The Panthers’ special teams let them down, with goals allowed while shorthanded and on the power play, and Edmonton’s star skaters vastly outplayed Florida’s top shooters, who failed to appear on the scoresheet.

It was the sort of game Florida has to try to flush, without allowing how poorly they showed up overall to leak into their next matchup.


Oilers grade: A+

Edmonton finally woke up in Game 4. Unsurprisingly, the Oilers weren’t ready for their season to end.

Connor McDavid? Sensational. His four-point night earned the Oilers’ captain his 32nd assist of the postseason, breaking Wayne Gretzky’s previous NHL record for most helpers in a single playoff run.

Dylan Holloway tucked in two goals to help pad the Oilers’ lead, and prove how dangerous Edmonton can be when all its lines get rolling.

Stuart Skinner put on a fantastic performance in net, and the Oilers’ defense showed up to give Skinner enough support.

Couple all of that with some excellent special teams play — including one shorthanded and one power-play goal — and Edmonton truly put it all together to plant serious doubt in Florida’s mind about where the rest of this Cup Final is headed.


What we learned in Game 4

Sergei Bobrovsky’s first falter

Florida’s goaltending has been arguably its best asset in the Cup Final. But Bobrovsky is human, after all.

The Panthers’ goaltender was pulled in the second period of Game 4 after giving up five goals on 16 shots. And that was after Bobrovsky went into Saturday’s game with a .953 save percentage and 1.33 goals-against average in the Cup Final.

His save on Ryan McLeod late in the third period of Game 3 sealed the Panthers’ victory, and put them in position to win the Cup in Game 4. Florida’s lackluster defensive effort in front of Bobrovsky took a toll, and it ultimately made more sense to give Bobrovsky some rest ahead of another chance to clinch in Game 5.

Welcome to the series, Edmonton’s stars

The Oilers’ top skaters had been inundated with criticism over failing to have an impact through the Cup Final’s first three games. Well, consider that barrier breached.

McDavid had one goal and three points in the first two periods alone. Leon Draisaitl had two assists, Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and Darnell Nurse had another. For once, it was the stars churning out star-like performances to lift Edmonton to its first win of the series.

Whether it was fueled by desperation or just an inevitable waking of the Oilers’ sleeping giants, they couldn’t have picked a more critical moment to finally enter the proverbial chat.

When Florida’s bad, it’s bad

The Panthers had not allowed eight or more goals since Game 5 of the 2023 Cup Final when the Vegas Golden Knights lit the lamp nine times.

Suffice to say, Florida’s disjointed effort was a true anomaly, and one that’s hard to explain away.

The Panthers knew what was at stake in Game 4 — the Cup was, after all, in the building — and yet Florida appeared inept and out of sorts in a way the Panthers haven’t shown in some time. The way Edmonton capitalized off the rush and could pressure Florida from the slot area — when the Panthers had previously done an excellent job holding the Oilers off — were quick examples of Florida being thrown off. The question now is whether the Panthers stay that way or manage to get back on track.

Edmonton’s special teams can be a factor

It took until Game 4, but the Oilers’ power play finally found the gas pedal. That’s excellent news for Edmonton.

Florida gave the Oilers ample opportunity to test-drive their man advantage, and Edmonton went 1-for-6, a hardly impressive stat line until it’s taken in consideration with the Oilers’ total lack of success on the power play up until Nugent-Hopkins broke through.

Add to that a shorthanded goal from Mattias Janmark to open the scoring on Saturday, and that’s some serious confidence-boosting energy for Edmonton and their special teams prospects. Those units could well be the difference in a tough Game 5 to come — when the Oilers have to expect the Panthers will be desperate to redeem themselves.


Players to watch in Game 5

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Panthers

Game 4 made it abundantly clear that as Bobrovsky goes, so do the Panthers. Therefore, seeing Bobrovsky bounce back in Game 5 will be paramount to Florida’s success in that contest.

The veteran netminder appeared light-hearted on the bench after being pulled on Saturday — even locating a puck and flipping it out to a Florida fan in the stands — and that’s a good sign he won’t let the debacle in Game 4 affect his confidence going forward. The Panthers will need him rejuvenated and ready to keep the Oilers’ stars from having another field day.

Connor McDavid, C, Oilers

It’s no coincidence that when McDavid got hot, so did the Oilers’ offense. While the tail end of Game 3 showed that Edmonton could push back when on the brink, it was when McDavid & Co. played to their full potential in Game 4 that the Oilers truly looked the best they have in the Cup Final.

The Oilers will have their backs against the wall from here to the end of this series and will mimic what urgency their captain brings to the fight. McDavid was feeding every linemate he could in Game 4 — on the power play, and at 5-on-5 — so it’s clear he recognizes the value in making everyone feel important. Channeling that all-for-one energy again could go a long way for Edmonton keeping this series going.


Big questions for Game 5

Are the floodgates open for Edmonton?

A worst-case scenario for Florida was Edmonton finding its legs offensively. The Oilers were lethargic up front early in the series, and that was something of which the Panthers clearly took advantage.

But Edmonton extracted some power from their play in the third period of Game 3, and it translated into a hot start in Game 4 that never died out. Is it a positive sign of what’s to come for Edmonton? Can the Oilers recreate that dominance again — and again — as the Cup Final moves along? Or will Florida’s projected counter-punch throw the Oilers back off track in Game 5? Now that the spark is lit for Edmonton, it’s on their top players to keep it alight from here.

How will Florida respond to a lopsided loss?

The Panthers hadn’t lost a playoff contest by multiple goals since Game 1 of their second-round series against the Boston Bruins (which was a 5-1 defeat). In fact, Florida had lost only three games total since then, going into Game 4.

All in all, the Panthers don’t have much experience in the postseason with unfavorable one-sided outcomes or getting vastly outplayed across the board. That’s what happened on Saturday though, and now the Panthers have to show what they’re made of with a responsive effort in Game 5.

Florida knows it can’t let Edmonton steal too much momentum — or else. The Panthers have shown repeatedly in the playoffs that they can rally from disappointment — having not recorded consecutive losses the entire postseason — and that’s never been more critical a trait to have than it is now.

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