Cote: Panthers get crushed in Edmonton 8-1 but Florida still in charge up 3-1 ... right? | Opinion

Admit it. You had the talk with fellow Florida Panthers fans, with neighbors, friends or coworkers, over the past couple of days. (I‘d imagine it was around the water cooler, but I’m not sure sure water coolers still exist.)

Somebody asked, “Would you rather have the Panthers clinch the Stanley Cup Final in Game 4 in Edmonton and celebrate the championship in a quiet arena 2,500 miles from home ... or lose Saturday night for a chance to raise the Cup before home fans Tuesday night in Game 5 back in Sunrise?”

No perfect answer. But if you chose the latter -- is it be-careful-what-you-wish-for?

The Panthers got clobbered 8-1 Saturday in a closeout game, with the Cup trophy in a crate ready to be unveiled, and now fly home to try again.

Even with the loss, NHL history still smiles beaming on the Panthers’ likelihood of raising the Cup.

Teams ahead 3-1 win the series 90.8 percent of the time. And teams down 1-3 after a Game 4 home win, like Edmonton, recover to win the series only 4.8 percent of the time. That’s a recognition of the trailing team have only one home game left while the leading team has two including a potential Game 7.

But after Saturday’s rout, admit it: A little nervous? Just a tiny bit?

I’d sooner think Panthers are thrilled. They just were gifted the chance to witness history at home.

“We did our job on the offensive side tonight,” said the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl. “But obviously, it’s just one win for us.”

Still, this was the awful game you’d grown to believe the Panthers didn’t have in them.

“We probably got outworked<” admitted captain Aleksander Barkov. “They rush chances we didn’t need to give up.”

Said Matthew Tkachuk: “They were flying, making really good plays off the rush. We just didn’t defend that well. They looked awesome and we didn’t have an answer. But still we’re in an unbelievable spot right now. We got a split and we’re going home to our unbelievable fans.”

A miserable first period saw the Cat down 3-1.

An even worse second period dug the hole to 6-1.

It was around then that Oilers fans began a “We want [Game] 7!” chant.

In the midst of the barrage the linchpin, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, got benched, not as punishment, but more out of pity, with the game out of hand.

The fans in Edmonton were holding up signs that read, ‘BELIEVE,’ and their players took it to heart.

Oilers led 1-0 on a short-handed goal -- the fourth Florida has given up this postseason -- when Mattias Janmark cashed with a backhander just 3:11 into the game.

It was 2-0 four minutes later when Niko Mikkola’ soft defense on the outside allowed a pass that became an Adam Henrique tip-in goal.

Florida fought back to draw within 3-1 when Vladimir Tarasenko redirected a Gustav Forsling shot into the net.

But Edmonton quickly delighted the home crowd again for a 3-1 lead on Dylan Holloway’s backhanded goal as the Oilers continued to create traffic in front of Bobrovsky’s net.

It was 4-1 when superstar Connor McDavid finally scored in this Final on snap shot, after a turnover by Matthew Tkachuk.

The scoreboard mocked at 5-1 on Darnell Nurse’s snap shot -- and that caused the Panthers to bench Bobrovsky for backup Anthony Stolarz with the game well gone. It was the fourth goal off the odd-man rush for Edmonton.

“We were disconnected to say the least,” said coach Paul Maurice.

Too much may be made of Bobrovsky being removed. The full expectation is Bob will be back in net for Game 5.

“Not a lot of silver linings, but Bob got some rest,” as Maurice put it afterward. “He’d had enough. My number on Bob’s probably five in general.”

It was 6-1 on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ wrist shot on a 5-on-3 double power play, with Sam Bennett and Tkachuk both sent off for roughing as the Cats’ frustration became palpable.

Edmonton piled on for 7-1 with Holloway’s second goal of the night, and the final score on a Ryan McLeod shot.

The goals by McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins were the first this series by any of Edmonton’s top five scorers.

In Sunrise, more than 2,500 miles away, the watch party at the home arena sold out. It began to empty before it should have.

The game mirrored what went on in the NBA Finals, where Boston held a commanding 3-0 series lead but lost Game 4 n Dallas by 38 points -- roughly the hardwood equivalent of Saturday’s ice rout.

It is rare in hockey to lose in the Stanley Cup Final and win it the very next year. The Panthers are trying to be the first team to do that since Pittsburgh did in 2008-09. Before that it hadn’t happened since Edmonton did it in 1983-84.

It is just as unusual for a Final to end in a sweep, which Florida could have done Saturday.. The NHL last saw it with an anomaly of four in a row in 1995-98, including the Panthers on the wrong end in ‘96 in the club’s first and only Stanley Cup Final before last season.

The historical odds still enormously favor the Panthers, but Saturday signaled Edmonton may be ready for a fight.

One fan in Ednonton’s arena held u a homemade sign that read, ‘So you’re saying there’s a chance?’

There is, thanks to Saturday night.

For those Panthers fans who were privately OK with a loss in Game 4 for the chance to maybe celebrate the Stanley Cup being raised at home Tuesday night, you got your wish. And what you are getting is not a guarantee, only this:

The biggest, most important home game in Florida Panthers franchise history.