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'We came close': Oilers fans stunned as Stanley Cup dream dies in Florida

EDMONTON — Oh, rats.

Canada’s latest attempt to bring the Stanley Cup home died dramatically on the edge of the Everglades on Monday, leaving fans from Edmonton to Florida thrilled at the ride but crushed at the destination.

The Oilers fell one game short of a comeback for the ages, winning three in a row to tie the final series only to drop the deciding Game 7 to the Florida Panthers by a score of 2-1.

Thousands of fans who packed the plaza outside Edmonton's Rogers Place stood in stunned silence watching on a big screen as Panthers players celebrated behind their net and the Florida crowd littered the ice with their trademark good-luck black plastic rats.

Some in Edmonton threw their drinks toward the big screen, a few gave hugs to those standing in sadness, others started walking out with their hands jammed in their pockets.

Inside the arena, about 16,000 also watched in dismay on the big screen as the game wound down.

“We didn’t put ourselves in the greatest position, going down 3-0,” said Tayo Yachimec.

“But we battled back. We came close in the end”

“It’s a little bit tough to take, but it is what it is,” added Christopher Alucema.

The consolation, he said, is two months watching playoff games in the rink and on the plaza, cheering with his friend, surrounded by fans.

“It was worth every penny. I’d do it again if I had to," Alucema said. “(It's a) lifetime of memories I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

“We had a good run,” said Gerard Pattenden.

“(But) it’s bringing back the old memories of ‘06. We get to the finals and we lose Game 7.

"It kind of sucks.”

Blue and orange fans were also a large and vocal contingent in the Florida rink. A rough eyeball count of tailgate parties under palm trees out front put about half in the Oilers camp, half for the Panthers.

At one point, the Edmonton faithful's chant of "Go Oilers Go!" overpowered the local contingent's cry of "Let's Go Panthers!"

It was a disheartening end to two months of playoff madness in Edmonton.

Fans chalked up streets, got tattoos, wore jerseys and flew Oilers flags from all manner of motorized transport, including a faux Zamboni.

The Oilers were on the verge of history, repeating a feat accomplished only once in the history of the NHL, when the wartime 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were down three games and came back to win four in a row to take the Cup.

The near-victory captured the national imagination, but more so in Edmonton. The city already has five Stanley Cups but for decades has been feeding off the scraps of faded glory from the Wayne Gretzky glory days of the 1980s.

The Stanley waiting game continues for the rest of Canada, which has not had a Cup winner since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Canadian teams have since come close, sometimes achingly so, to snatching Stanley back.

Five times they pushed opponents to a seventh and deciding game before going home empty-handed: Vancouver in 1994 and 2011; Calgary in 2004; Edmonton in 2006, and again on Monday.

Through much of the last century, the trophy had more or less held permanent resident status in Canada – commuting between Toronto and Montreal, and relocating to hang with Gordie Howe and company in Detroit for a spell in the 1950s.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Stanley alternated between Canada and the U.S., mainly shuttling between Montreal and Edmonton along with homes on the U.S. East Coast, notably Long Island.

By the 1990s, it was goodbye Canada. Stanley was squired away by the New York Rangers in 1994. From Broadway, Stanley hit the road to California and New England, Vegas to Florida, the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt. He partied with Penguins, weather systems and natural disasters: Hurricanes, Avalanches and Lightning. He was a Blackhawk, a Blue, a Star, a Duck.

And now, a Panther.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2024.

— With files from Rob Drinkwater and David Boles in Edmonton and Gregory Strong in Sunrise, Fla.

Lisa Johnson and Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press