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The deciding game of the NHL Stanley Cup Final should be a thrilling end

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now, in any sport, coming back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games is nearly impossible. Between the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL, a team has pulled that off just five times. And tonight it could happen once more. In Game 7 of hockey's Stanley Cup final, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to cap off a historic comeback against the Florida Panthers. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan joins us now, Hey, Becky.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so just how big of a deal is this?

SULLIVAN: I mean, I think you were getting at it, but truly, like, I think there's no exaggeration to say that if Edmonton wins this game tonight, this would rank up there among the greatest comebacks of all time in North American sports. The stat that you mentioned - that this has only happened five times - what's even crazier is that it's only happened once when a championship was on the line. And that was 82 years ago in the Stanley Cup - so, like...

CHANG: Wow.

SULLIVAN: ...So many decades. And then I just think we're going to get a great game. The Florida Panthers have been on top of the league all season. Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers have this generation's best player in Connor McDavid, who tonight has the chance to win his first-ever trophy and in such style with the comeback. So I think even if you're, like, a very casual sports fan and not a fan of hockey, I recommend tuning in.

CHANG: OK. And I know that there's another streak that you have not mentioned yet because I am such a sports expert.

SULLIVAN: Of course.

CHANG: It has been more than three decades - right? - since a Canadian team...

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Took home a Stanley Cup. Do you think this is going to be the year?

SULLIVAN: It might be. I mean, this is a big deal because ice hockey was invented in Canada. So the National Hockey League was originally Canadian. But none of the country's seven teams have won the Cup since 1993. Zach Hyman is the left wing for the Oilers. He talked to reporters today about - you know, he's Canadian - about how he grew up dreaming about winning the Stanley Cup, why it's such a big deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZACH HYMAN: It's very much embedded in Canadian culture. So it would mean a lot to, I think, all Canadians, regardless of if you're an Edmonton Oiler fan or not, especially the way the series has gone. And I think we've roped a lot of people into believing in us. It's a special opportunity we have.

CHANG: OK. Well, just catch us up because there have been - what? - 1,399 hockey games this season. It all comes down to tonight. What has this season been like?

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I mean, I think for Edmonton, that's part of what has made this comeback so amazing because they looked, honestly, just terrible to start the season. They lost 10 of their first 13 games.

CHANG: Ouch.

SULLIVAN: They fired their head coach. So it was an uphill battle to even reach this stage. By contrast, Florida has looked great all season. And that followed them through the first three games of the Stanley Cup final. They looked unstoppable with their aggressive D, their outstanding goalie play. And so then with the Oilers down 3-0, it was as if McDavid personally decided, you know, I'm not going to lose this thing. They exploded in Game 4, big wins in Game 5 and 6. And now it's the Panthers who are on their heels in Edmonton with all the momentum.

CHANG: OK. So what should a casual fan such as myself watch for tonight?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think for starters, I think you're going to want to be looking for No. 97 in the White Jersey. For Edmonton, that's Connor McDavid. He is just incredible at handling the puck. He's very fast on the ice. He's just, like, an electric player to watch. He's been on a roll this postseason, especially once the Oilers sort of cracked the code and found a way to open up the ice for him.

The Panthers - I mean, it's Game 7. Everybody is going to be putting it all out there on the ice tonight. So I think what the most important thing for you to do is just enjoy it because hockey is just always a thrilling game but this even more so - Game 7, the Stanley Cup on the line, history at stake, Ailsa.

CHANG: History.

SULLIVAN: It's the best of what the sport has to offer.

CHANG: I love it. That is NPR's Becky Sullivan. Thank you so much, Becky.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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