Oilers on playoff ropes, need home victory to extend series with Golden Knights

·5 min read

LAS VEGAS — The Vegas Golden Knights have the Edmonton Oilers on the playoff ropes in their second-round series.

The Oilers need a win at home Sunday to avoid elimination and force a Game 7 finale in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Edmonton is the lone Canadian NHL club left in Stanley Cup contention this year and faces an uphill battle to stay in it.

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft shifted attention away from that scenario Saturday to the Golden Knights trying to become the first team in the series to win two straight and close it out on the road.

"We know this having been on the other side of it," Woodcroft said before departing Las Vegas.

"When you get to trying to find the fourth win of the series, the pressure shifts to that team. We know where the pressure lies in this situation. That's on Vegas trying to come to our building and close us out in Edmonton.

"We're looking to go home, play our best game and hold serve."

The Golden Knights prevailed 4-3 at home in Game 5 with both clubs minus premier defencemen serving one-game suspensions.

Edmonton's Darnell Nurse and the Golden Knights' Alex Pietrangelo will both be fresher for having sat out Friday.

"He's an emotional catalyst for us," Woodcroft said of Nurse.

"He's our do-it-right guy on the back end. He's someone who we missed yesterday, but we're excited to have coming in game number six."

Nurse was suspended for instigating a fight, while Pietrangelo was sanctioned for slashing Leon Draisaitl in Game 4.

Pietrangelo told media in Las Vegas he was sweating watching his team play Friday when he couldn't.

"It's an emotional roller-coaster when you're watching that's for sure," said the Golden Knights' assistant captain.

"The guys who were watching with me thought I was crazy. I don't want to be in that situation again."

The Golden Knights scored two power-play goals — their first power-play goals since Game 1 of the series — and augmented that with two even-strength goals Friday.

While the Oilers continue to lean into their power play, which went 3-for-4 and runs hot at 40 per cent in the series, they've been outproduced in even-strength goals at 13-8 in favour of Vegas.

After a torrid 13 goals in his first eight playoff games, Draisaitl's production has dried up the last two games.

Oilers captain Connor McDavid, a nominee for this year's Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, has scored one even-strength goal among his seven in the playoffs.

Edmonton's goaltender Stuart Skinner was replaced by Jack Campbell in the second period for the second time in three games Friday, although Woodcroft insisted that wasn't a reflection of the 24-year-old's performance.

"He's given us a chance to win," Woodcroft said. "I've pulled him a couple times, but in those pulls that was more to either stem the tide of momentum or to try and change something up. Those are on the team. They're not on one individual.

"We're in the position we're in because of the people that we have in the locker room and we believe the solutions to what we're trying to get done here, the answers are in the locker room."

Woodcroft would not reveal Saturday if Skinner would start again Sunday or if Campbell would get his first of the playoffs.

"Going to reserve the right to take the time we have before we have to make that decision," Woodcroft said.

Friday's game turned on Vegas scoring a second-period, five-on-three goal, followed by another power-play goal 29 seconds later when the puck bounced off the skate of McDavid into the open for Reilly Smith to sweep into the net.

The Knights quickly parlayed that momentum into an even-strength goal for a trio of strikes in an 89-second span.

"The game-changer was the five-on-three," Woodcroft said. "That allowed them to get some momentum. They hadn't scored on the power play in a long time. They found a little confidence by scoring five-on-three, and then they got a break to make it three to two a few seconds after that.

"I thought our penalty killed did an excellent job and competed their tails off, but in the end, they found a five-on-three goal and they got a break."

Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Friday's game that even before his team's three-goal burst, the Oilers lacked the pace they'd had in a 4-1 win in Edmonton to take Game 4.

"They didn't have the same jump that they certainly had in Edmonton in Game 4," Cassidy said. "We needed to take advantage of that. I think our players sensed it, to be perfectly honest. They just didn't have the same drive and intensity they had up there.

"The physicality that they showed in Game 4 wasn't quite as evident. It could be that time of the series where you don't want to do anything to put your team at a disadvantage.

"That's what our guys sensed, whether that's accurate or not I don't know. That was our feeling on the bench, that we can grab hold of this, that they weren't dominating or pushing us out of the game by any means."

Countered Woodcroft on Saturday: "The thoughts of the other team are of little concern to our group."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press