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Oilers top Stars 2-1 for West title, will play Florida in the Stanley Cup Final

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers

Jun 2, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars during the first period in game six of the Western Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Connor McDavid had a goal and an assist in the opening period to get Edmonton going, Stuart Skinner stopped 34 shots for his hometown team and the Oilers capped an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final by beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Sunday night.

Zach Hyman also scored — like McDavid, on a first-period power play — and Evan Bouchard had two assists for the Oilers, who won the Western Conference in six games and will play for the Cup for the first time since 2006.

They’ll be heading to Florida for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, that series set to open on Saturday night. The Panthers are playing in the title series for the third time, after getting swept by Colorado in 1996 and losing to Vegas in five games last year.

Mason Marchment scored midway through the third period and Jake Oettinger stopped eight shots for the Stars, who finished the regular season with the second-best record in the NHL — 113 points, just one behind the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

But the Stars, just like the Rangers, let a 2-1 lead in the conference finals get away. Dallas scored five goals in Game 3 to take the series lead; the Stars managed four goals, total, in the next three games.

Oettinger went to the bench with about 2:20 to go, but the Stars got only two shots the rest of the way, their desperate tries to tie the game and extend the series coming up short.

Just by getting to the Cup final, Edmonton has done something truly extraordinary — making the title series after finding itself 10 points out of a playoff spot during the regular season. Entering games on Nov. 24, the Oilers were 5-12-1, 10 points back of Seattle and St. Louis for the final wild-card spot in the West and 19 points behind Vegas for the top spot in the conference.

Those days are long forgotten now.

That’s when the Oilers — a couple weeks after Kris Knoblauch took over as coach for Jay Woodcroft, who was dismissed following a 3-9-1 start — went on an eight-game winning streak and began the long climb out of the NHL’s basement.

Starting with that eight-game win streak, the Oilers — who had a 16-game winning streak not long after the eight-game run ended — were the best team in the NHL for the remainder of the regular season. They were 44-15-5 the rest of the way, leading the league in goals (239) and goal differential (plus-76) in that span.

And now, the final awaits.

Edmonton is just the third team in NHL history to make the final after being 10 points or more out of a playoff spot; the others were Toronto in 1958-59 and St. Louis in 2018-19. The Blues won the Cup that season.

The Oilers had only three shots in the first period of Game 6. They were enough.

McDavid opened the scoring with a spectacular goal, weaving through traffic before beating Oettinger up high for a 1-0 lead. He then found Hyman in the slot for another power-play score late in the first; the shots at that point were 6-3 Dallas, but the score was 2-0 Edmonton and the Oilers were on their way.