The Day After +10.0: Edmonton Oilers bring their best, send a message in 4-1 win over Vegas Golden Knights
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Zach Laing19 days ago
After a game-three loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round of these playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers knew they didn’t bring their best.
Head coach Jay Woodcroft knew it.
“Not our finest hour in any way.”
Connor McDavid knew it.
“Not a lot to like about tonight.”
McDavid, however, knew they had more.
“I’d expect our best game in game four.”
Well, to a man, they brought their best and it led the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-1 victory on Wednesday night in front of their hometown crowd. But the final score was quickly overshadowed by late antics in the game.
With a hair under four minutes left in the game with the score well out of reach for the visiting side, Evander Kane flew into the Golden Knight’s zone and caught defenceman Alex Pietrangelo with a crosscheck in the back. What would normally be an innocuous play looked a lot worse as Pietrangelo caught an edge and crashed hard, face-first into the boards. Teammates came to the defenceman’s aid, and it had clearly upset him.
A minute and a half later, Leon Draisaitl came into the Vegas zone to try and score on an empty net, but put the puck wide. Pietrangelo, however, did his best impersonation of Paul Bunyan coming down on Draisaitl with a vicious and malicious two-handed slash that caught the Oilers forward on the hands. McDavid would rush over to rough up Pietrangelo, and had choice words about the incident after the game.
“It’s as intent to injure as you can get,” said McDavid after the game. “Time, score, clock all play a factor.
“He comes from over his own head and places (the slash) just under Leon’s chin. You’d like to see something like that suspended, that’s not a hockey play.”
THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY
The incident will surely be looked at by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, but it’s not the only thing that will have caught the eye of the league. Just 40 seconds later, the puck had found its way into the Vegas Golden Knights zone and was pinned in the corner.
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse came down into the zone from the point, and got tied up with Golden Knights defenceman Nic Hague. This whole kit and caboodle, of course, went back to game three when the latter shook up Oilers forward Zach Hyman with a knee.
Nurse and Hague fought, but a league rule could come into play forcing the Oilers rearguard out of the lineup for game five.
According to section 46.21 of the NHL’s rule book, “a player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime, shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident.” The suspension is pending a review by the league’s director of hockey operations and no appeals are permitted.
The suspension, and review, ensures “the incident is not related to the score, previous incidents in the game or prior games, retaliatory in nature, ‘message sending, etc.'”
But in the eyes of Woodcroft, he saw the whole thing shake out a little bit differently.
“I saw the play going on, I saw Darnell wrap somebody up, two guys bear-hugging each other,” said Woodcroft, who could face a $10,000 fine if Nurse’s suspension is upheld. “I saw their player with his gloves off first. I saw their player throw eight punches. So to me, that’s two willing combatants.
“It’s not like somebody was turtled up in a ball. I saw two willing combatants. And as I said, I believe it started with the Vegas Golden Knight player 14 had his gloves off first and he threw the first eight punches.”
This whole fracas, which all happened in the final four minutes of the game, overshadowed what was a 56 walloping by the Oilers. In fact, it might have been their best game of the entire season in a moment they so desperately needed it.
They played with pace from the second the puck dropped to the second the final buzzer ended never shying away from laying one of 46 punishing hits, nor did they take a shift off. After all, that’s an issue that has plagued this team. In both game one, and then game three of the series, the Oilers often found themselves scoring a goal only to take the next shift off.
That didn’t happen last night.
“Those are big shifts. We talk about that all the time,” said McDavid. “I thought we did a great job of grabbing momentum after we scored one, and continued to play our game the way we want to and play with pace.”
Edmonton’s goals all came from players that really needed them. Nick Bjugstad broke open the scoring 6:46 into the game with his first of the series. Evan Bouchard, whose the only one of four who didn’t need a goal — but would never deny one — scored not even a minute later and Mattias Ekholm got his first of the playoffs at the 13:30 mark of that first period.
And then, the one who needed it the most — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
He found twine 14:45 into the second period with a beautiful shot from the high-slot to truly put this game away. Let’s hope this is a goal that helps get the monkey off the back, and lets the flood gates open.
The job isn’t over. The series now turns into a best-of-three that sees Vegas get home-ice advantage with game five, and seven — if needed — being played in Nevada.
“We got to follow it up,” said McDavid. “Somebody’s got to do it two nights in a row.
“It’s got to be us.”
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at email@example.com.
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