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‘We have belief:’ Edmonton Oilers back from the brink as Stanley Cup Final set for historic Game 7

By Aimee Lewis, CNN

(CNN) — When history is on the line, a game becomes more than the sum of the minutes played, more than a sporting occasion, it becomes a story. In the words of Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, the Stanley Cup Final has become “everyone’s dream.”

The Edmonton Oilers have come back from the brink, igniting imaginations and creating a unique chapter in NHL history. Three times they have staved off potential elimination from the championship, and now here they are, from 0-3 down in the best-of-seven series to 3-3 and with the momentum ahead of Game 7 on Monday in a winner-takes-all, winner-makes-history tie.

“Game 7, so everyone’s dream, and that’s why we need to be ready for Game 7,” Barkov told reporters.

A 5-1 victory over the Panthers on Friday has turned this season’s finale into an unlikely tale with everything now on the line for both teams.

“It’s crazy,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said after the game, while teammate Leon Draisaitl described it as “a (heck) of a story so far.”

A victory for the Oilers would not only end Canada’s decades-long Stanley Cup drought, but make Edmonton the second team – the first being the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942 – to win the championship from 0-3 down, completing one of the greatest comebacks in sport.

Though they have suffered three losses on the trot, consequently missing three chances to clinch the series, the Panthers are still one victory away from a first championship in franchise history. They have one last chance.

“You’ve suffered a defeat, you feel it, it hurts,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice told reporterrs after Friday’s loss at Rogers Place.

“You lick your wounds and we start building that back tomorrow. But who you are tonight means nothing to who you’re going to be two days from now.”

Perhaps significantly, the Panthers’ shot at history comes on home ice. Home advantage has helped historically, with the host team enjoying a 12-5 record in Game 7 of the Final.

“We have one game to go,” Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. “We were ready right from the start to play a seven-game series, and nothing changes now. We got up three, and they played three good games. Now it’s up to us to win at home.”

However, Florida has struggled offensively in the last three games, scoring just five, a problem that was more than evident on Friday.

The turning point in Game 6 came early on, when Barkov hammered home a rebound almost immediately after going 2-0 down, but Edmonton successfully challenged for offside and the goal was overturned. Officials had ruled Sam Reinhard preceded the puck into the offensive zone and was offside prior to the goal.

“It changed the momentum of the game,” said Hyman of the call, per the NHL.

Barkov said his team had plenty of chances after that call and forward Carter Verhaeghe said the Oilers “came out hungrier than us.”

“They wanted it and that was kind of it,” he said, per the NHL. “We didn’t really get to our forecheck off the start and they took it to us, so I think it’s for us to get better and I think we need some better starts,” he added.

While momentum is on the Oilers side, so too is the heart of this story.

Edmonton were bottom of the NHL overall standings at one point after a 2-9-1 start to the season. They were down and almost out in the Final. Their improbable season almost has the unlikeliest of endings.

Hyman, who with 16 goals has scored the most in a single postseason since Joe Sakic had 18 in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, summed up the Oilers’ position nicely.

“We have belief,” he said afterwards, per the NHL. “I think that’s the word I want to use.”

“Every game you win it gets stronger, and the outside belief from other people, they start believing too. A lot of people weren’t so interested in the Final when it was 0-3, but now I’m sure a lot of people will be tuning in.

“That’s why sports is amazing, because the unthinkable can happen. We’re in a spot where we thought it could happen, when nobody else believed that it could. Now we’ve got an opportunity. That’s all you can ask for.”

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