The Day After +9.0: Big players shining in big moments for Oilers

Edmonton Oilers Evan Bouchard
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
A best-of-seven has turned to a best-of-three, and the Edmonton Oilers have all the momentum.
It sure wasn’t pretty, as the Oilers’ 2-1 lead against the Canucks in Game 4 Tuesday night poofed in front of their eyes, when Vancouver winger Dakota Joshua got credit for a goal with just 1:49 left on the clock in the third period.
But all it took was one minute and two seconds for Evan Bouchard, with the game tied, to seal the Edmonton Oilers victory. 3-2. That’s all she wrote. And now, after splitting the first four games with the Vancouver Canucks 2-2, the series shifts back west with the Oilers riding high.
Getting to that point, however, required some tough decisions. Stuart Skinner was removed from the starters’ crease after three near-disastrous games to open the series, which resulted in him allowing 12 goals against 58 shots. A .793 save percentage wasn’t going to cut it, considering all three of the games had been decided by one goal.
Enter Calvin Pickard: the 32-year-old journeyman goaltender who, almost surely, never expected to play a playoff game for the Oilers. Calm, cool and collected, he delivered for his team in the biggest of ways.
I felt like I channelled my emotions pretty good,” said Pickard after the game in which he turned aside 19 of 21 shots faced for a .909 save percentage. “It felt like another game.
“Every game in the NHL is high pressure, and I didn’t want to let the pressure of a playoff game override what I needed to do. I felt comfortable right from the get-go, and it’s just one game, so moving onto the next.”
It wasn’t an out-of-world performance by any means, but he could do something Skinner hadn’t done in this series: make the saves when they mattered most. Multiple times in the game, Pickard stonewalled the Canucks, whether it was on the six minutes of penalty kills early in the game or when things reached a fever pitch for Vancouver in the third. He was far from at fault even on the two he let in.
Pickard’s play wasn’t the only difficult decision Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch had to make. There was also shuffling in the forward and defensive corps. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returned to the top line alongside Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman, scoring a massive goal with 40 seconds left in the second period.
Dylan Holloway, the Oilers’ best bottom-six player this post-season, got elevated to the second line alongside Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. He found himself around the action all night long, battling for a puck late in the game seconds before Bouchard scored his game-winner.
The blue line changed too, beyond Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm sticking together. Darnell Nurse partnered with Vincent Desharnais, while Cody Ceci skated with Brett Kulak. Far from perfect, but these six played well enough to continue to limit what the Canucks were able to do in the Oilers zone.
“We won,” said Knoblauch with a smile when asked about his shuffling of the blue line. “I think that was a good move. We’ll look at it and look at the chances, were they positive or negative, but ultimately, we’re here to get the victory and we did that. I’m going to say it was a success.”
A success it was, even if imperfect.
Couple Bouchard’s winner and Nugent-Hopkins’ late second-period goal with another Draisaitl power play goal from his office scored in the first, and the Oilers found themselves on the right side of it.
What happens next, well, that’s for the hockey gods to decide. The series shifts back to Vancouver, who hopes to rekindle some West Coast magic and punch back after, as their head coach Rick Tocchet alluded to, his club had “five, six or seven passengers.”
The Oilers, on the other hand, will look to build off what they accomplished in Game 4. The good news in their favour is their goaltending decision should be simple: start Pickard again. He earned it.
More good news is that, for the most part, the lines and defensive pairings should remain intact. Knoblauch said after the game he didn’t see “any reason not to give Dylan more responsibilities than he had tonight,” but noted things could change a bit with them no longer being at home. 
But the truth of the matter is the Oilers’ top-six were dominant all night long as across 12:43 of 5v5 ice-time, the first line controlled 65.6 percent of the shot attempt share and 57.2 percent of the expected goal share, while the second line controlled 55.6 percent and 58.2 percent of the same statistics. They drove play all night and generated looks, and the club got rewarded for it.
Time will tell what happens in the day and hours leading up to Game 5, but Knoblauch spoke about how he’s liked what he’s seen from this team.
You look at our expected goals, the chances we’ve given up, I believe we’re number one in the NHL right now,” said Knoblauch. “We’ve done a good job defending and not giving up very much. Our players sometimes are going to make mistakes. It’s hockey, you’re not going to play a perfect game. No one has ever played a perfect game.
“I’m happy with our guys, how well they’ve done.”
No matter how you cut it, from a strong performance controlling the game to Pickard slamming the door and Bouchard scoring his second game-winning goal this series, the Oilers should have their heads high ahead of another trip west.

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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