July 14th, 2024

Stuart Skinner making timely saves to help the Oilers claw back in the Stanley Cup Final

By Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press on June 21, 2024.

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) deflects a shot on goal during the third period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – Stuart Skinner sprawled to his right to glove a shot by Carter Verhaeghe on a 2-on-1 early in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final that maintained the Edmonton Oilers’ lead. Less than a minute into Game 5, he lunged the same direction to deny Aaron Ekblad from scoring on yet another extremely high-quality scoring chance.

When the Oilers have needed him most, their mustached homegrown goaltender has been there for them. Since he and the team were pushed to the brink, falling behind 3-0 in the series against the Florida Panthers, Skinner has stopped 61 of 65 shots, making timely saves at critical times to keep the final going.

“He’s definitely stepped up,” alternate captain Leon Draisaitl said. “I think he’s been playing great for us, and we expect it coming down the stretch here. He’s one of those guys, one of those goalies who steps up in big moments.”

Skinner’s resurgence is just the latest example of the 25-year-old responding to adversity, including a turnover of his in Game 3 that contributed to a third consecutive loss. He is 8-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage since returning to the net from being benched during the second round.

The Edmonton native who, until that point, had some of the worst playoff statistics at the position in the past two decades – a save percentage of .881 in his first 20 games – has gotten better as the stakes have gotten higher.

“It’s a byproduct of the experiences that I go through and what I do with them,” Skinner said Thursday, roughly 18 hours before puck drop on Game 6 of the series in the city he grew up in. “It’s also a byproduct of how my team plays in front of me. These guys have been nothing but be supportive and playing good on both ends of the ice. …

“It’s what you do when things kind of come your way, and whether it’s good or whether it’s bad, it’s all about how you respond. And I think for myself, it’s just trying to give this team a chance to win every night.”

Skinner has done so after a blip in Game 3 because his play, considered before the series one of the biggest unknowns, was not the reason Edmonton lost each of the first two of the final at Florida.

But, along with Connor McDavid producing at an MVP caliber level at the other end of the rink, Skinner has played an important role in the Oilers clawing back.

“It starts with your best players: If your best players are going and playing well, everyone else follows,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “When you look across (the locker room) and you see Stuart Skinner playing as well as he is, Connor McDavid putting up back to back four-point games, that gives your team a lot of confidence.”

There’s no lack of confidence in Skinner, who also does not seem fazed by the high-pressure situation. TV cameras caught him bopping his head to the music playing in the arena.

“Yeah, sometimes you’ll see me nod to the music, for sure,” Skinner said. “When I hear a tune that’s easy to go along with, sometimes you’ll see me bobbing my head. It’s just enjoying where you are in the moment, having some fun with it.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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