The Day After +4.0: Stuart Skinner slams the door as Oilers win ugly

Edmonton Oilers Stuart Skinner
Photo credit:Yannick Peterhans-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
5 days ago
Take a bow, Stuart Skinner.
You earned it.
While the narrative around the Oilers and Skinner through the first three games of their first-round series against the L.A. Kings was that the netminder hadn’t played up to par, he completely broke that Sunday night, as he secured his first career playoff shutout. Coupled with a lone goal from Evan Bouchard on a second-period power play, the Edmonton Oilers secured a 1-0 win and now have the Kings on the ropes with a 3-1 series advantage.
It wasn’t pretty, though, but it doesn’t always have to be. All that matters in the playoffs is getting the win, and that’s exactly what the Oilers did.
The game they played wasn’t the high-flying, five, six, or seven-goal performances they’ve put forth in the first three games of the series. Instead, it was the patented “game you have to play to win in the playoffs” type of game — the hard grinding, take what you can get, and leave nothing for your opponent type of game.
The ones we’ve been waiting to see from this club for a long time.
“The guys did a really good job defending,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “(The Kings) had a lot of shots, I felt like a lot of them were from the perimeter, but (Skinner) did make a lot of key saves for us.
“His game was really good, and I don’t think anyone questioned if he ever was going to make the next save. We’re very pleased to have him playing the way he did tonight.”
Despite being heavily outshot to the tune of 33-13, Stuart Skinner slammed the door against the Kings. He got some help from the guys in front of him, too, helping to minimize the high-danger looks, and keep lots of action to the outside.
It came from players like Evan Bouchard, who had one of the best defensive games of his career, helping clear pucks out of the zone by making crisp passes or chipping pucks off walls to great spots. Or it came from players like Vincent Desharnais, eating pucks defensively and swallowing up space. Or it came from forwards coming back defensively, committing to hard plays, winning puck battles all over the ice.
As winger Corey Perry said, there are games in the playoffs where “you’re going to have to dig deep and play defence and grind one out,” and that’s something we haven’t seen much of from the Oilers in the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era.
In fact, these games haven’t come often at all. In the 24 playoff wins the Oilers have had since 2016-17, there have only been two where the Oilers scored three or fewer goals with a one-goal differential to win. They both came in the 2017 playoffs, where the Oilers beat the Sharks 1-0 in Game 3 of the first round and a 2-1 win in Game 2 of the second round against the Ducks.
If you expand the goal differential to two, you can add in Games 2 and 6 against the Sharks, as well as the Oilers’ Game 7 win over the Kings in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. Nonetheless, it paints the picture of how few and far between this kind of game has been.
“It’s a real strength of ours showing we can win games this way,” said defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “Stu was great (and) I thought our team defence was good. They had more shots than us, but I thought we limited the chances that were quality, grade A’s.
“It didn’t feel like they had those unbelievable looks in front of our goaltender, which was good. This is one of those you have to squeak ’em out.”
While the play on the ice speaks for itself, there’s a lot of work that goes into it behind the scenes, too. Knoblauch spoke about how Paul Coffey’s confidence in Vincent Desharnais led him to be on the ice in the final minutes of the game alongside Ekholm to ice the game.
Skinner’s calm demeanour in the crease has given the players in front of him something to feed off and feel confident about, and Ekholm said Knoblauch deserves credit for helping with that, too.
“He’s a big part of that, absolutely. I feel like throughout the season we’ve shown when we do stay calm, we tend to play better as a team,” he said. “The times we get riled up, or yell at the refs or this and that, we get off script and it usually doesn’t go our way.
“I think the guys have seen that, we’ve rallied around that, and we’re trying to stay as calm as we can on the bench. He helps us out in that regard in a big way.”
And now, the Oilers will have a chance to return to home ice for a Wednesday night game in which they can dethrone the Kings, and punch their ticket to the second round.

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 zach@thenationnetwork.com.


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