Canucks fail to match Oilers’ desperation despite chance to close out series

Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had three-point nights and Stuart Skinner made 14 saves as the Edmonton Oilers forced a Game 7 with a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

EDMONTON — Nobody will remember the Vancouver Canucks’ worst game of the series if their last game of the series is their best one.

With two chances to win one game to eliminate the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks threw away the first opportunity here Saturday by failing to match their opponents’ desperation, speed and urgency while losing 5-1. Really, it looked like a game between one team facing elimination and another with the wildcard of a Game 7 at home still in its pocket.

Prohibitively-favoured and down 3-2 in the series, the Oilers were desperate. The Canucks were not.

Maybe that’s all about Stanley Cup Playoff experience. Edmonton is in its seventh series in three National Hockey League seasons. About half of Vancouver’s roster came into this series with only six games of genuine playoff experience.

The Canucks, of course, would have accepted in a heartbeat — at nearly any point in their remarkable season-long journey — the opportunity to play the seventh game of a Stanley Cup quarterfinal series on home ice. Win it and you go to the Western Conference Final for the first time in 13 years.

They played 82 regular-season games, winning 50 of them, and clinched the Pacific Division title with a final-week win in Edmonton, for the right to play Monday’s deciding game at Rogers Arena, probably the loudest building in these playoffs.

On Queen Victoria’s day, the Canucks have a chance to be kings. But, after Saturday, so do the Oilers.

“This is huge opportunity for us, for everybody,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet told reporters. “Like I said, a lot of people would want this. I know it stings because we didn’t have good effort tonight and they played really well. Tip their hat. They had a lot of energy and they played desperate hockey. But saying that. . . you’ve got to flush it down. You’ve got 48 hours to get yourself ready for a huge game. Not many players are playing in this type of atmosphere. I think we play the game, as players, to be on that stage. Play like you want to be a hero.”

The heroes on Saturday were the predictable ones.

One or the other of Oiler megastars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl set up all five Edmonton goals.

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But the Canucks didn’t come close to offering the resistance required, the resistance they displayed by dominating Game 5 two nights earlier. Some of Vancouver’s best players made the biggest mistakes.

On Dylan Holloway’s spectacular charge to the net on the Oilers’ first goal, Elias Pettersson made a soft play in the neutral zone and Quinn Hughes a terrible one at the blueline.

Brock Boeser flimsily poked at the puck on the second goal when he needed to step into Zach Hyman before the Oiler scored from the slot.

Vancouver’s shutdown defenceman, Carson Soucy, allowed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to easily get in front of him to tap in McDavid’s pass and make it 4-1 early in the third period. And the Canucks stood like statues after losing a defensive-zone faceoff before Evander Kane picked his spot on goalie Arturs Silovs on the final goal.

J.T. Miller, so good with linemates Boeser and Pius Suter at limiting McDavid’s impact through five games, was torched in Game 6 and finished minus-three.

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The top Canuck players combined on the power play to go 0-for-4, managing their only two shots in seven minutes of advantage time during a failed, 56-second five-on-three near the end of the second period when the deficit was only 3-1.

Vancouver finished with just 15 shots on net despite chasing the game for the final 33 minutes after Hyman’s goal broke a 1-1 tie in the second period.

“I mean, it’s not the recipe for success,” Pettersson said of the low shot total. “Obviously, we have won games (with) not many shots. It is what it is. They won today. It’s a seven-game series for a reason, and I’ll focus on that. I’m excited for it. I know the barn’s going to be loud, fans are going to be into it. And those are the type of games you want to play.”

This is the mindset the Canucks will try to reinforce before Monday’s series climax, the first Game 7 in front of fans for Pettersson, Boeser, Hughes, Connor Garland, Dakota Joshua, Silovs and a bunch of others.

They have never had such an opportunity. Which means they’ve also never experienced the pressure of an elimination game in a playoff series — a series they led three times.

“There’s always a test,” Hughes, the 24-year-old captain, said. “If you lose three in a row in January, you know, people are still going crazy and that’s a test, too. We’re going to have to treat it like another game. It’s a great opportunity. If you told us we’d have this opportunity in September, we would have took it. Probably would have taken it three or four weeks ago as well. Yeah, we’ll be excited.

“We want to be at our best when it really matters and hopefully, you know, we’re going to need to do that.”

But as Tocchet and his Hall-of-Fame staff will tell them, it’s not like any other game.

“A lot of short shifts, a lot of desperation,” he said of Game 7s. “If you’ve got to put that puck in your mouth and skate it out. . . you’ve got to do that. If there’s a chance to block a shot, block a shot. If there’s a two-on-one, you’ve got to execute. I mean, these are big moments, and you’re looking for guys to want it. Want that big moment. Don’t be scared of it. Go after it, you know. Go after this. That’s my advice to everybody.”

Tocchet said injured starting goalie Thatcher Demko will not return for Game 7 and the team has confidence in Silovs, who looked poor on Evan Bouchard’s unscreened point shot on Saturday but otherwise has been the least of Vancouver’s problems.

“I told the players, you’ve got to stick together,” Tocchet said, meaning it literally, not just figuratively. “We’ll probably meet at the rink sometime tomorrow, and I’m a big believer in sticking together (in) groups of people. Especially this next 48 hours. I think that’s the best way for inexperienced guys — to be surrounded with people, and confident people. I think we have to be confident.”

They’re about to experience something special. One way or another it, they’ll remember it.

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