EDMONTON — They say no series starts until one team loses at home.

If that old chestnut knocks true, then the 2024 Stanley Cup Final has officially begun.

And, unofficially, it’s over.

Sure, the Edmonton Oilers, though battered and bested over 180 minutes, will not wave the white flag. They speak of an unshakable belief. And we believe they believe. Mostly.

The rub: Belief alone is not enough.

Not when you’re slamming into the concrete wall that is the series’ superior goaltender or trying to weave and feint your way through the deeper, healthier defence corps. Not when you’re getting swarmed by hockey’s best-checking team or losing so many battles along the boards. Not when the two-time Selke champ is making more of a difference than the two Hart winners.

And not when the Florida Panthers — now outscoring Edmonton 11-4 and leading the final 3-zip after Thursday’s controlled and opportunistic 4-3 road win at Rogers Place — can roll out the same game plan night after night.

If both teams believe, maybe it’s the one with unshakable structure and elite consistency that triumphs. The organization that stumbled upon a recipe that works and keeps force-feeding it down your gullet like Big Macs on Big Macs.

“We don’t try to change anything. We play the same way for 60 minutes — or plus, if we have to — and we have a belief that if we play that way, we’ll get the results we’re looking for,” says Evan Rodrigues, who has as many points in this series as the Oilers do goals.

“A lot of these guys have been doing this for 200-plus games. Doing the same things, playing the same way. One hundred-plus this year. You go through all your routines throughout the year, and you find out what works for you, so that when you get in a moment like this, you just do what you’ve done before.”

What they’re doing now is what they did to the Lightning and the Bruins and the Rangers. Finish every check. Forecheck the opposition till they puke up pucks like Big Macs. And flip the world’s most frightening power plays into non-factors.

The Oilers’ all-world man-advantage is now 0-for-10.

“We’re trying to figure them out, obviously. We haven’t beat them in three games. We’ve had stretches that are good, stretches that are bad,” Connor McDavid said. “Yeah, we’re trying to figure them out.”

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch tried spinning positive during what threatens to be his penultimate post-game press conference of the season. He invoked phrases like “luck” and “expected goals” — terms of the defeated.

“It’s not like we’re getting outplayed and that team’s better than us,” Knoblauch tried selling. “We’re getting our chances.”

Sure. But too many of those chances are from the perimeter or when already trailing or getting thrown into a charging set of shins or an outstretched goalie pad.

The patient Panthers simply wait for Cody Ceci or Darnell Nurse or Evan Bouchard or Stuart Skinner or whoever it may be to make a play or hesitate a half-step in their decision. Then they pounce and convert.

As they did in Game 3’s deciding six-minute-and-19-second, second-period stretch, when they scored thrice off Oilers’ turnovers and misplays.

“Right from the start, our compete, our will to win this one — it was huge, and it showed,” Sam Bennett said. “All four lines, everyone on D, our goalie, all battling their butt off.”

Meanwhile, Leon Draisaitl entered the final with 28 points in 18 playoff games. He’s still searching for his first point against Florida.

“It’s very frustrating,” Draisaitl said. “I pride myself on being good in the playoffs and playing well and just can’t seem to get anything going. Obviously, I have to look in the mirror and try to be better.”

Any team that reaches Round 4 is focused. Typically, the extra boost comes from the more desperate group, the side that needs the win more.

What we’re seeing here is the Panthers’ desire getting the best of the Oilers’ desperation. And we can hear it, too, from a sold-out barn that started off shaking but had its volume squashed by one heckuva road game by a team that can taste what was denied one June ago.

“You can feel it. It’s getting closer to you,” Florida coach Paul Maurice says.

“So, all of this is about managing. There’s a great band, a great frequency in there for both teams to operate in, and they can use it. Cross that line? Want something too bad? You become too desperate; you’re not a good hockey team anymore. So, it’s just about managing. Both maybe have slightly different fuel sources, [but] everybody comes to the rink grinding.”

There is a will to win on both sides, no doubt.

But Florida’s is more predictable and patient. It is honed sharper. And there’s no chance we see the Cats wasting all four lives they have left.

“You just either have it or you don’t. And we’ve got 23 dawgs on our team that have that will,” says Bennett, immediately taking a businesslike approach to the game of his life Saturday.

“It’s exciting. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to come prepared to play that exact game.”

Fox’s Fast Five

• Most recent sweep in the Stanley Cup Final?

Twenty-six years ago, when the 1998 Detroit Red Wings thumped the Washington Capitals 4-0.

Sergei Bobrovsky will likely win the Conn Smythe, but Paul Maurice should be in consideration…

• One more loss, and Corey Perry will have lost four different Cup finals with four different teams over a five-year span. Wild.

• Rodrigues (three goals and an assist in the final) smiles at the notion that Florida’s Hispanic community is rallying around a 30-year-old journeyman from Etobicoke, Ont.

“I got some Portuguese blood in me. My dad’s from there, and that’s about it. Don’t really speak it,” Rodrigues says of the Spanish language.

“Maybe now that I’m in South Florida, I should get on that. But with three kids at home, I don’t know if that’s a priority right now. It’s always nice to be embraced — and I’ll take it.”

• Panthers fans get a bad rap for supporting their squad in dribs and drabs.

Well, the Cats sold out the entire lower bowl plus so their fans could watch Game 3 together on a giant TV…

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