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Oilers need Darnell Nurse to carry over his late series mojo vs. the Stars to the Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers Dallas Stars
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Panganiban
1 month ago
We’re in June, and the Edmonton Oilers are in the Stanley Cup Finals. It feels good to say that, doesn’t it Oil Country?
This season has been a wild ride, full of ups and downs and a whirlwind of emotions, but at the end of the day, the Oilers are only four wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup.
Speaking to the rollercoaster season, when the Oilers are winning, there’s typically less blame game, but when things go south, defenceman Darnell Nurse often bears the brunt of the criticism. Still, the frustration thrown towards him can be understandable at times. He can flat-out dominate from the back end in some instances but underperforms in others, as seen in the differences between Games 3 and 4 in the series against the Dallas Stars.
Nevertheless, like it or not, he’s a leader on the Oilers’ blue line, and when he’s at the top of his game, he’s a force to be reckoned with. We’ve seen him tap into that determined version of Darnell Nurse late in the series versus Dallas, and for the Stanley Cup to return to Edmonton after almost 34 years, Nurse must bring his A-game. That said, later in this article, we’ll discuss what he needs to do to be successful in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers.

A Recap of Nurse’s Highs and Lows Vs. the Stars

Nurse ranks third in minutes played (360:01 minutes) among Oilers D-men this postseason, behind only Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard. Be that as it may, the veteran blueliner was under scrutiny after the Oilers’ 5-3 loss in Game 3 against the Stars due to his subpar performance.
Edmonton came out with a hot 2-0 start, but Dallas started their onslaught five minutes into the second period, scoring three goals within a few minutes. Nurse got caught puck-watching on the third goal. On the fourth goal against, he got caught between covering the pass and defending the man and allowed Jason Robertson a free lane to the net, which resulted in the game-winning goal. Additionally, he took a late tripping penalty with his team pressing to tie the game.
As a result of his play in Game 3, he took the brunt of the blame and faced criticism heading into Game 4, where he would be paired with Brett Kulak, a duo that had only played 51 minutes together at 5v5 during the regular season. Unfortunately, things got off to a bad start for them. Kulak made an ill-advised pinch, and Dallas scored a minute into the game. Then, five minutes later, the puck deflected off Nurse’s rear end.
Imagine the level of pressure Nurse must have been facing at that moment. A defensive lapse may have led to his team’s loss in Game 3, and the start of Game 4 was going horribly for him. Moreover, if the Oilers lost that game, which would’ve put them down 3-1 in the series, just imagine the increased backlash he would’ve received.
But the 29-year-old deserves some credit because he had a remarkable turnaround in Game 4. Something clicked, and Nurse got his legs going. His play on Ryan McLeod’s goal in the first period ignited the Oilers’ comeback.
Edmonton had only two shots on net through the seven-minute mark of the opening frame, but on the Oilers’ first goal of the game, Nurse led the rush confidently, skated the puck into the Stars zone and dropped the puck to Corey Perry. Nurse created space by going hard to the net, Perry shot the puck, and McLeod roofed the rebound over Jake Oettinger.
Game 4 against the Stars was Nurse’s best game in months. He skated hard, earned an assist, blocked three shots, and was mean and nasty, dishing out 12 hits that night, compared to the 12 hits he had in the previous eight games combined, helping his team win 5-2. Dare I say he looked like a number one defenceman that night?
In Games 5 and 6, Nurse seemed more dialled in overall. While he had some slight slip-ups, he appeared more engaged, made solid backchecks, and combined for five hits and eight blocks in the series’ final two games. He made good defensive plays, which included delivering a big open-ice hit on Ty Dellandrea in Game 5. Additionally, he had a crucial third-period block on Tyler Seguin as the Stars pressed throughout Game 6.

What Does Nurse Need to Do Against the Panthers to Be Successful?

While Nurse’s play has been a mixed bag at times, his recent outings in the last three games against the Stars, especially in Game 4, highlight his ability to command a game. So, what do the Oilers need from him to be successful in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Panthers? For one, they need him to be physical, as it can potentially change a game’s momentum.
The Panthers like to throw their weight around, with nine players recording over 40 hits in the playoffs compared to just two Oilers with 40 hits or more (Evander Kane with 62 hits and Dylan Holloway with 56). That said, Nurse, who’s third on the team in hits (39), is at the top of his game when he’s hitting, likely because he’s more engaged. However, he must maintain composure and not get caught out of position, causing an odd-man rush.
Additionally, the Oilers need the 6-foot-4 D-man to be tough around the crease. Bruce Curlock wrote about the Panthers’ ability to create numerous high-danger chances at 5v5 in his ‘Edmonton Oilers vs. Florida Panthers: A Tactical Preview‘ piece, meaning Nurse needs to be alert and clear bodies around his net:
 “At 5v5, the Panthers are second only to the Dallas Stars in the playoffs in scoring chances for, high-danger chances for and are leading the playoffs in shots for.”
Also, Nurse needs to keep it simple in his zone—making quick and simple passes or utilizing his exceptional skating ability, which is one of his strengths, to skate the puck out of danger, as Curlock also described that Florida has a potent forecheck:
“This is the quintessential battle in this series: Florida’s offensive zone forecheck against the Oilers’ ability to exit the zone.” He added, “The key battles in this series will revolve around the Oilers defender’s ability to handle pressure. Most of that will be in their zone, but also some of it in the offensive zone.”
Not only that, but Nurse is at his best when he’s moving his feet, which again shows he’s actively engaged and not hesitating to join the rush, which we saw more frequently in the last three games of the Stars series. That said, perhaps being paired with a defensive partner like Kulak, who’s been the definition of steady this postseason, rather than Cody Ceci, allows him the freedom to do so.
Nonetheless, we’re in for a treat with the first-ever playoff series between two great, fast-paced, and physical teams, the Oilers and the Panthers, which highlights the two unique dimensions Nurse brings to the game when he’s at his peak. With that in mind, what are your expectations for Nurse in the Stanley Cup Finals?

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