All Even: Oilers Bring It
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Lose two straight games for the first time in 30 games dating back to February 28? Jump a jet for Nevada trailing their series 3-1 and facing elimination? Play yet another playoff game without a goal for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? No, no, and no.
The Edmonton Oilers weren’t having any of it when the puck dropped for Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights at Rogers Place Wednesday. Instead, they responded with their best effort of the series any way you care to measure it on the way to a 4-1 win that has the teams even at 2-2 with Game 5 to come Friday.
Drubbed 5-1 Monday, the Oilers checked some important boxes in this one. Nugent-Hopkins scored his first goal of the post-season to make it 4-0. Stuart Skinner delivered a bounce-back outing with 25 saves. Nick Bjugstad, Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm scored the other goals as the Oilers outplayed and outscored the Golden Knights 5-on-5.
Add to the above some nastiness late in the game — most notably a two-handed slash to the wrist delivered by Alex Pietrangelo on Leon Draisaitl and a scrap between Darnell Nurse and Nicolas Hague – and what we’ve got now is a best-of-three series with plenty of hair on it heading back to Las Vegas.
WHAT THEY SAY
May 10, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) during the first period against the Vegas Golden Knights in game four of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
The buzz post-game was about Pietrangelo, a target of the Oilers all series. First, Pietrangelo was cross-checked into the boards from behind when he turned into a check by Evander Kane. He responded in the final 90 seconds with a two-handed chop on Draisaitl that drew a major penalty and calls for a suspension by Oiler fans. In the final minute, Nurse, who got a bogus instigator penalty (carrying a mandatory one-game suspension), and Hague threw down.
“I think we’ve been doing that all playoffs,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We believe in playing the game hard, whistle to whistle, finishing your check in a legal fashion. When you do that, you wear teams down and you create frustration. So, it was a good game plan tonight, and the guys followed it to a tee.”
Create frustration? That would be Pietrangelo, who has a hearing with NHL Player Safety today that’ll likely result in a one-game suspension. A fine won’t do.
“If you’re asking my opinion on that play, I would not define it as a hockey play,” Woodcroft said of the hack to Draisaitl. “I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure people will take a look at it.”
Intensity aside, the Oilers got their act together at even strength and outshot the Golden Knights 22-4 at 5-on-5 and outscored them 3-1. Skinner, only so-so through the first three games of the series and pulled for Jack Campbell Monday, was very good. Then, there was RNH, who fought the puck again early, but buried a feed from Connor McDavid behind Adin Hill on a power play.
“Yeah, felt good,” Skinner said. “I mean, again, just a huge win by the group, so that’s the most important thing. Just the way the guys battled tonight was impressive.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
We’ve yet to see either team impose their will and manage to put together back-to-back wins in this series, and I’m not sure what we saw in this game signals a swing in favor of the Oilers that translates to another win back in Vegas Friday. I suspect that there’s a lot of back-and-forth left in this match-up.
Like I said off the top, it’s a best-of-three now and with the way things unfolded last night, there’s a whole lot of emotion in the mix. This is what teams play for.
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