June 14th, 2024

Oilers advance to Western Conference final with intense 3-2 win over Canucks

By Carol Schram, The Canadian Press on May 20, 2024.

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, front left, scores against Vancouver Canucks goalie Arturs Silovs (31) as Filip Hronek (17) and Edmonton's Zach Hyman (18) and Leon Draisaitl (29) watch during the second period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, in Vancouver, on Monday, May 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – Through to the 2024 Western Conference final after their 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Monday’s Game 7, the Edmonton Oilers also occupy the top three spots in the Stanley Cup points race.

Leon Draisaitl sits first with 24 points in 12 games. Connor McDavid is right behind him at 21, and Evan Bouchard leads all defencemen with 20.

But the Oilers are shedding their reputation as a two-man team. On Monday, the Canucks held McDavid off the scoresheet for the third time in seven games, and limited Draisaitl to just one assist.

With their playoff future on the line, Bouchard chipped in two assists, while Edmonton’s scoring came from Cody Ceci, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

The longest-tenured Oiler and Burnaby, B.C., product, Nugent-Hopkins potted the game-winner on a sharp-angle power-play shot at 15:22 of the second period, giving the Oilers a 3-0 lead that they’d need when the Canucks mounted a furious comeback in the third.

“It takes every single guy in here,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Definitely proud to get the job done with this group.”

Coaching in his first Stanley Cup playoffs, Kris Knoblauch singled out Nugent-Hopkins and the bottom-six forwards for successfully killing off a four-minute penalty called on Ryan McLeod late in the first period.

“We played, I thought, really well,” said Knoblauch of his team’s first-period effort, when Edmonton outshot Vancouver 13-2. “That could be a turning point in the game, but our penalty kill, like it has been for almost all the playoffs, has been really solid.”

The Canucks went 0-for-3 with the man advantage on Monday, their fourth-straight game without a power-play tally. Edmonton killed off 20-of-23 short-handed situations in the series.

All told, the Oilers outshot the Canucks 29-17 in Game 7, an edge that they held in five of the seven games in the series. Their 5-1 win in Game 6 was the only multi-goal victory on either side in a battle where the margin between winning and losing was razor thin.

And while the Canucks looked hard-pressed to create any dangerous scoring chances for the first 52 minutes on Monday, an unassisted slot shot by Conor Garland with 8:23 left in the third gave life to the team and its fans. Filip Hronek got Vancouver to within one with 4:36 left to play, and the hosts kept the pressure dialed up until the final buzzer.

“For the most part, I thought we played really well,” said Draisaitl, who famously declared 2023-24 to be a “˜Cup or Bust’ season after the Oilers were eliminated from the second round of the 2023 playoffs. “Would we like to keep it a little less stressful? Yes, probably.”

After giving up one goal on 15 shots in his return to the net for Edmonton’s Game 6 win, Stuart Skinner faced just 17 shots in Game 7, and only five in the third period.

But that didn’t make it an easy night.

“They were able to make plays, but just weren’t able to get shots on net,” Skinner said. “I was working really hard, believe it or not. But I just didn’t get a ton of shots, which is a credit to the guys in front.”

The Oilers are now 8-4 all time in Game 7 appearances, while the Canucks fall to 6-7. Edmonton is back in the Western Conference final for the second time in three years, the only Canadian team to reach the final four since the Montreal Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup final in the abbreviated 2020-21 season.

The Canucks were making their first playoff appearance in front of fans since 2015, when they fell in the first round to the Calgary Flames. Despite losing Vezina Trophy nominee Thatcher Demko to injury after the first game of Round 1, the Canucks advanced past the first round for the first time since the 2020 playoff bubble.

After the game, Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet emphasized the strides that his group has taken since he stepped behind the bench in January of 2023.

“They put respect back to that jersey and into this city,” he said. “Fans have got something to be proud of.”

With the win, Edmonton will face the Western Conference’s regular-season champion, the Dallas Stars. The best-of-seven series opens at American Airlines Center on Thursday.

NOTES

The Oilers are the first road team to win a Game 7 in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. “¦ Edmonton used the same lineup that delivered Saturday’s 5-1 win. “¦ Edmonton’s last Game 7 appearance came in the first round of 2022, when McDavid posted a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. “¦ Vancouver’s last Game 7 was a 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 bubble. “¦ Alex Edler, the Canucks’ franchise leader in points by a defenceman, cranked the siren at Rogers Arena before the game. “¦ Actor Owen Wilson was on hand in the stands.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2024.

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