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Oilers' Ekholm not taking his return to Cup Final 'for granted'

Andy Devlin / National Hockey League / Getty

It's been seven years since Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm last appeared in the Stanley Cup Final, and the 34-year-old veteran is more than ready to make his return to the NHL's biggest stage.

"Definitely not taking it for granted at this point in my career, but super happy to be back and excited," Ekholm told reporters ahead of Saturday's Game 1. "I wouldn't say I have any regrets with the (2017) final, but at the same time, you're trying to make everything out of this one because you never know if it's your last one. I'm not getting any younger."

Ekholm was key to the Nashville Predators' deepest playoff run in franchise history, chipping in with one goal and 11 points in 22 games while averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per contest. However, he came two wins short from hoisting the Stanley Cup, with the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Predators in six games to clinch back-to-back championships.

The Swedish blue-liner has been similarly important to the Oilers' pursuits this year, amassing seven points in 18 games and seeing almost 22 minutes of ice time while forming an elite pair alongside Evan Bouchard. Edmonton has outscored opponents 18-9 and controlled 59.5% of the expected goals with the duo on the ice at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick.

Based on his past experience, Ekholm said he's aware that this spring's final will come down to "margins that are probably so small."

One of the deciding factors will likely be special teams, which is all well and good to Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. Edmonton owns the top power play (37.3%) and best penalty kill (93.9%) of these playoffs, and the Panthers have taken a league-leading 207 penalty minutes.

"We'll have our opportunities to be on the power play," Knoblauch said. "I know Florida is one of the most penalized teams throughout the playoffs. For us to be looking for them or embellishing, we've never done that, we're not that type of team.

"The more we possess the puck, the more we're moving our feet and making plays, we're putting them in a position to take a penalty against us, and ultimately that's all that we can control."

The Panthers are no slouches on the penalty kill, either. They own the second-best unit of these playoffs with an 88.2% success rate.

The Puck drops for Game 1 at 8 p.m. ET.

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