What to watch for in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final — and which team will win

The first three games of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final saw the Florida Panthers build a 3-0 lead, dominating most aspects of play against the Edmonton Oilers.

Games 4 and 5 were a different story entirely, as the Oilers charged back with two straight wins, with four points in each contest for superstar Connor McDavid.

Will the Cats close it out in Game 6? Or will the series continue to Game 7? Our experts are here to break down all the big questions heading into Friday’s game (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

What changed for the Panthers in Games 4 and 5?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Just an overall lack of consistency. For the majority of the first three games, the Panthers were a metronome. They were a threat to score in every period. Even when their defensive structure had its challenges, they still received consistent goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky in a manner that made up for those miscues.

What’s happening now appears to be a systemic breakdown in a variety of areas. Game 5 reinforced that belief. The Panthers limited the Oilers to just 23 shots, 10 scoring chances and 3 high-danger scoring chances. Those metrics are strong — yet the Panthers allowed four goals, not counting an empty-netter at the end. Again, it’s a lack of consistency or at least a disconnect.

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: Aside from the “McDavid factor,” and that Bobrovsky appears more beatable than he has essentially all postseason, earning 11 penalties through two games hasn’t helped. Not only since three of them led to Oilers power-play goals, but also because, as by design, it’s more difficult to score in one’s own favor when down a player — unless you’re on the Oilers: Mattias Janmark did so in Game 4 and Connor Brown tallied one in Game 5.

We can add the latter of those to the list of reasons we’re even discussing a Game 6 back in Edmonton at all. If Brown didn’t open with that shorty five-ish minutes in, I’m not sure the Panthers wouldn’t already be parade-planning.

Arda Öcal, NHL broadcaster: Bobrovsky becoming human and McDavid becoming superhuman. More human than human, even. For Bob, that’s nine goals allowed against in the past two games, with .688 and .826 save percentages, respectively. Bob needs to transform back into the best version of Playoff Bob, like he had been (against McDavid especially) previously in this series.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Florida’s special teams went from impenetrable to vulnerable in a snap. The Panthers had allowed just two power-play goals in their previous 16 outings going into Game 4 — where Florida gave up three goals on the man advantage and two shorthanded.

Those are back-breaking totals in tightly contested times like these, and it just handed more momentum to the suddenly surging Oilers. Yes, McDavid is otherworldly and Bobrovsky showed he can be average, too. But Florida’s collective downfall was losing those battles they’d been winning handily throughout the postseason.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: These are all symptoms of the primary problem: The Cup was in the building, twice. The Panthers have sworn up and down that it didn’t matter, but Carter Verhaeghe let the mask slip before Game 5: “It’s a little different with the Cup in the building.”

Paul Maurice framed it — as Paul Maurice does — as the ultimate goal suddenly moving from after the game to being in front of it. Now your friends and family are in a building in Edmonton, waiting to see the Cup. And they’re all in Sunrise, plus all your fans, waiting to see the Cup. Florida’s starts in Games 4 and 5 are absolutely the byproduct of that tension. The Panthers are so much better when the expectations aren’t on them, and they’re punching from underneath. That might be the case in Game 6.

Connor McDavid will score ____ points in Game 6.

Clark: Three points; one goal, two assists.

Matiash: Two. A goal of his own and a power-play assist on Leon Draisaitl‘s first since forever ago (May 29).

Öcal: Three points total.

Shilton: Four points again; one goal, three assists.

Wyshynski: One goal and two assists to move two points behind Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record for points in a single postseason.

If the Panthers win Game 6, who wins the Conn Smythe?

Clark: It’s hard to ignore Connor McDavid for reasons that have everything and nothing to do with McDavid. One of the considerations Conn Smythe voters will likely weigh when it comes to any Panthers player is their consistency over the series. After Game 3, it appeared as if Bobrovsky and Aleksander Barkov were either the top two favorites or among the top three favorites.

Since then, Bobrovsky has struggled to stop shots while Barkov went from scoring four points and being on the ice for zero goals against through the first three games to going pointless while being on the ice for four goals against (2 power-play goals, 1 shorthanded and 1 5-on-5) in the past two games. By comparison, McDavid has had eight points in the past two games and has embodied how the Oilers went from struggling to find a grip to having a firmer grasp going into Game 6.

Matiash: McDavid could wrap up Game 6 minus-five while losing to the Panthers 7-0 and he’s still walking away with it. Hey, this is coming from someone who has been all over Barkov for the award up until recently.

Heading into Game 6, this generation’s Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux has 20 more points than the most productive Panther (Matthew Tkachuk). We’re going to be referencing this performance for years and years.

Öcal: Connor McDavid, and it’s not even close. It’s a playoffs award not a Stanley Cup Final award. But even if it was, No. 97 broke two No. 99 records in the past two games. To ignore one of the greatest individual postseason performances in NHL history would be silly at this point. It’s already McDavid’s award.

Shilton: What is the Conn Smythe? An award for the player most valuable to his team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Are we even discussing Game 6 probabilities without Connor McDavid? Would Edmonton be in the Cup Final at all if McDavid weren’t having an actual historically productive postseason?

Sergei Bobrovsky deserves all the accolades for what he has given the Panthers; there’s no doubt he has had an MVP-worthy playoffs, too. But, even his stellar run isn’t on par with what McDavid has done.

Wyshynski: The guy I said had an undeniable case to win the Conn Smythe whether or not his team captures the Stanley Cup, and that was before he posted his second straight four-point game.

Unless the voters have this unwavering commitment to the idea that a player from the losing team in the Final can’t win an award for most valuable player of the entire postseason — a rather daft notion, considering it has happened five previous times — then McDavid wins the Conn Smythe even if he doesn’t lift the Cup. He has led his team deep enough to justify it. He has shattered Gretzky’s record for assists in a single postseason and is poised to become the only player other than The Great One in 1987 to have a hand in over 50% of his team’s goals.

Forget the hockey context: This is one of the most dominant individual efforts in sports history. Of course it’s Connor McDavid.

The final score of Game 6 will be ______.

Clark: 4-3, Florida. Generating 26 shots over the final two periods of Game 5, along with the fact they outshot the Oilers 10-4 in the third period, was the most active the Panthers have looked in the past two games. We’ve talked a lot about how finding any sort of breakthrough could be a sign. Maybe this can be that for the Panthers.

And if it’s not? Then, we’re going to be asking if the Oilers are about to pull off the greatest comeback in NHL history, if not the best in the history of North American professional sports.

Matiash: 5-3 Panthers. Florida rides the momentum of what they did right in Game 5. Happy to be wrong here though, as I’m salivating at the thought of a Game 7 on Monday.

Öcal: 4-2, Oilers. Bring on Game 7!

Shilton: 5-4, Florida. The Panthers won’t lose three in a row. Florida was all over Edmonton in the third period of Game 5 (just like the Oilers took it to their opponent in the third frame of Game 3) and it will set a tone for how they start in Game 6. This is the Panthers’ time.

Wyshynski: 4-3 Florida. As noted above, Game 5 felt very much like Game 3 in the sense that one team took the win and the other team took some confidence away in their loss. For about 25 minutes, the Panthers looked like themselves again, and Tkachuk looked like the guy we saw in 2023.

His line with Sam Bennett and Evan Rodrigues will generate multiple goals, Sam Reinhart adds one himself and the power play finally converts. Bobrovsky doesn’t fumble the bag and the Panthers hang on in the final minute to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

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