Game Four Thoughts: It’s So Close
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
Just minutes after scoring the biggest goal of his career, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sat facing the media with a permanent grin on his face. The crowd outside the Oilers Hall of Fame room was going absolutely bananas and when asked about the fans, Nugent-Hopkins said “tonight was something special”.
It certainly was, Ryan.
The Oilers got off to a flying start in game four of the Battle of Alberta and were leading the Flames 3-0 after the opening 20 minutes. It looked like they were going to cruise through the final two periods and take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Well, the final 40 minutes didn’t exactly go as planned.
The Oilers gave up a pair of quick goals in the second period and then in the third period, the air was taken out of Rogers Place as Rasmus Anderson launched a slapshot from his own end that somehow eluded Mike Smith. The 3-0 lead had withered away to nothing.
Game four is always the swing game in the series. It’s rarely ever an elimination game, but it’s almost always a massive turning point. It felt like the Oilers had squandered their opportunity to take control of this series.
For some Oilers fans, I’m sure it felt like a moment like this was coming. Things were simply going too well for a team that hasn’t had a lot of things go well over the last 15 years. They desperately needed a hero to step up and change the narrative because if they dropped game four, then suddenly all the momentum they had built up over the last few games would disappear.
Well, the hero they got could not have been more fitting.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has really seen it all in his eleven seasons with the team. Countless coaching changes, big trades, and high draft picks. He’s endured more pain in an Oilers sweater than any other player on this roster. More losing seasons than playoff appearances and more frustrating year-end interviews than big postseason moments.
After 719 career regular season games and 31 playoff games, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally got his signature Stanley Cup Playoffs moment. It feels fitting that he was the one to save the day and bring the Oilers one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006.
Frank Seravalli wrote a fantastic piece on Nugent-Hopkins and what happened in game four over at Daily Faceoff.
I said before game four that depth scoring was going to be huge for the Oilers in game four. Most of their offensive production so far in the series had come from their top line of @Connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl, and @Evander Kane. That trio had combined for 23 points through the first three games of the series while the rest of the roster had only combined for 14.
While it’s fair to assume that McDavid and Draisaitl will always find ways to produce, there was no denying that the Oilers needed more production from their second and third lines. They got that on Tuesday night and Nugent-Hopkins scored both the first and final goals of the game. Yes, the Oilers big guns still contributed, but for once it was the depth scoring who came through in the big moments.
On both The Sherwood Ford GIANT Pre Game Show and in my pre-game article, I talked about how the Oilers game could reach a whole different level. They played really well in games two and three but through depth scoring and a productive powerplay, I thought they could be even more difficult to beat.
It looks like both the powerplay and depth scoring might be getting going so while the Flames could very well win game five, I just don’t see them being able to defeat this Oilers team three times in a row. The Oilers might just be starting to play their best hockey right now.
The second line came through in game four and now, I’ll be looking for the team’s third line of Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod, and Kailer Yamamoto to produce on Thursday night when the team has a chance to close out the series. That trio was very good in game three but struggled a little bit in game four as they were outshot 4-0 in 7:58 of 5v5 ice time together. The Oilers could benefit from a bounceback performance from that trio.
I will also be interested to see how Mike Smith plays in game five. He always bounces back really well after making big mistakes or having a bad game. After the game one blunder against the LA Kings, he pitched a 30 save shutout. After getting yanked in game one vs Calgary, he responded by posting a .925 save percentage in a game two victory.
Mike Smith will be a huge key to victory for the Oilers. Probably the biggest. They also need to keep getting depth scoring and let the powerplay hurt the Flames when they get opportunities. If that all happens, then at some point over the next few days, we should be celebrating the Oilers moving on to the Western Conference Finals.
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