Crazy Eight: Oilers pummel Panthers, keep hopes very much alive

Connor McDavid scored and notched three assists to set a new playoff record, Dylan Holloway scored twice, and Stuart Skinner made 32 saves to help the Edmonton Oilers crush the Florida Panthers 8-1 in Game 4 for their first win of the series.

EDMONTON — They said this season was going to be “Cup or bust.” And it was very nearly both of those.

But somehow, like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes at Christmas, the Edmonton Oilers found something they’ve been looking for since this Stanley Cup Final began.

Some luck. Some battle level that hadn’t been there. Some shooting accuracy that had gone into hiding.

Some refusal to let this Final go down in hockey history as a sweep.

[brightcove videoID=6355117658112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Together, it arrived like a prairie twister, touching down on Florida’s defensive zone and leaving the Panthers’ structure strewn across Oil Country in an 8-1 evisceration on Saturday.

On a night where Sergei Bobrovsky could have walked out of Rogers Place carrying the Conn Smythe Trophy, he was seen skating to the Panthers bench five minutes into the second period.

Goalie Bob got the hook, after allowing five goals on 16 shots. Did anyone have that on their Bingo card?

“It’s not easy when you don’t have a win. When the puck isn’t going in, and the other guy (Bobrovsky) seems unbeatable,” said Zach Hyman. “But the more you play, you know that the more chances you get, it’s going to go in. That’s just hockey.

“You can break ’em down. That’s why this is a seven-game series.”

“He’d had enough,” said Florida head coach Paul Maurice on his goalie. “My number on Bob is probably five, in general. He’d had enough.”

A frustrated Oilers team that entered Game 4 with a shooting percentage of just 4.1 per cent — talking of expected goals that were somehow delayed, like a flight out of Denver — reverted to the mean Saturday.

It started on a short-handed goal just 3:11 into the game forged by the speedy Connor Brown, and cashed by Mattias Janmark, two depth guys whose work in this Final should be a bullhorn for every hockey fan who that thinks that players who only score seven or eight goals in the regular season don’t matter.

Janmark and Brown were the catalysts for Edmonton in Game 4, on a night where the big boys had plenty of help from below.

“The top guys are going to carry the load on a lot of nights,” Janmark said, “but there are going to have to be nights where we chip in. You want to have them as often as possible, but that was big tonight.”

It’s crazy to think that the Oilers entered the game with four goals in the entire series, then hung eight on the Panthers on a single night. It’s even more crazy to think about what lies ahead, an identical situation to their 2006 Final against Carolina, when Edmonton went down to Raleigh, won Game 5 after being in a 3-1 hole, and would eventually take it to a Game 7.

“It’s just one win,” said Connor McDavid. “It doesn’t matter if you score eight or you score one. It’s just one win. Now, you want to go to Florida, do a job, and drag ‘em back to Alberta.”

[brightcove videoID=6355114593112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

McDavid was, as one would expect, stellar on a one-goal, three-assist night, his first real Connor McDavid performance in this Final. He also set a National Hockey League playoff record with his 32nd assist this spring, surpassing the great Wayne Gretzky for the most apples in a playoff season – ever.

On a night when the puck luck began to shift in Edmonton’s direction — Florida’s power play hit a post and a crossbar just seconds before Janmark’s shorty — the Oilers won more puck battles and, for the first time, tipped the goaltending scales.

Stuart Skinner (32 saves) was spectacular, most notably when he got across his crease to thwart Carter Verhaeghe on a first-period, two-on-one. That goal would have erased the 2-0 Oilers lead they’d built, but Skinner gave Edmonton the save that Bobrovsky had been giving Florida previously.

Dylan Holloway scored his first of two a couple of minutes later to send the Oilers to their room with a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.

[brightcove videoID=6355109130112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Timely,” McDavid said. “You talk about goaltending and getting timely saves, and I think about that save.”

“That was a message sender,” Brown said in a jubilant Oilers dressing room. “There’s been a lot of talk about Bobrovsky in these first three games, but we’ve got a young kid in goal who has an old soul, playing way above anything that I could have done it at (25).

“Every time he steps into adversity he’s a beast, and he makes timely saves like that. When he starts finding his rhythm, he’s a scary goalie.”

And the Oilers, who have written the book on digging themselves out of trouble this season, are one win away from becoming a very scary team.

The task of winning Game 5 in Sunrise is mammoth, and will take everything the Oilers have and more.

But if they can manage it, and get this series back to the atmosphere we experienced here on Saturday…

It’s game on folks.

It took a while, but now it’s game on.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.