Oilers’ struggles with goaltending, even-strength play result in Game 6 elimination

Jonathan Marchessault scored a natural hat trick for the first time in Vegas Golden Knights post-season history as his team defeated the offensively potent Edmonton Oilers 5-2 in six games to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Final.

EDMONTON — The hike to the peak is never a constant ascent. It comes with dips and detours, dashed hopes and the odd switchback. 

It’s a merciless process, one that doesn’t care when the climb began or what spring you had planned on planting your flag. 

In a season where the path to ol’ Stanley was wide open, the Edmonton Oilers ran out of oxygen before the halfway point, losing their Round 2 series to the Vegas Golden Knights in six games. The longer this series went — culminating in a 5-2 clincher on Sunday — the clearer it became that this version of the Oilers was not yet the one. 

“It feels like every team that wins, that goes on a stretch of winning, kind of experiences this,” began captain Connor McDavid, valiant with 20 points in 12 playoff games this spring. “Obviously, it’s not what you want to do, not what you want to feel. That being said, I really feel that you’ve got to go through some of this to win. I think we’ve seen that all the way through. 

“Let’s hope it’s the last time.” 

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Three rounds last season turned into just two this time around, as an Oilers team ran low on the two lifelines of playoff travel: goaltending and support scoring. 

Stuart Skinner, the Calder Trophy candidate who became this franchise’s goalie of the future this season, just wasn’t ready to pull a Ken Dryden and take his team to the Cup in his first playoff journey. 

“This is obviously part of the book that, you know, one day we’re all gonna write,” Skinner said, after being pulled in three of the last four games of this series. “A chapter where it stings and it sucks and it’s painful — and sure it’s (my) first year — but we had a very special group and I had the chance to help this team do that. And I didn’t do that.”

“But it’s, it’s part of the road,” he said. “Part of my story anyways.”

We’re not sure that Evander Kane was ever right in this these playoffs, health-wise, and Zach Hyman was never the same after what is believed to be a charley horse suffered early in the series. They each had just three playoff goals. 

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But after scoring six times in the first two games of the series, Leon Draisaitl fell off. And with Kane and Hyman’s production down, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto bring but a single goal each to the table in a 12-game playoff run, well, it’s fair to ask where the goals are going to come from. 

It was a horrendous playoff for Nugent-Hopkins, who ghosted these playoffs after a 104-point regular season, perhaps the most disappointing development for a team that simply got choked off by Vegas. 

The Golden Knights outscored Edmonton 18-9 at even strength in this series, and the best powerplay in the world wasn’t much use when the Golden Knights stopped taking penalties. That marked the final death knell for an Oilers team that just stopped being effective at even strength, and did not defend well enough to avoid needing four goals per night to win. 

“Every single person in this room went out there and prepared, tried to give everything that they had,” assistant captain Darnell Nurse said. “We weren’t able to produce at the same level five-on-five as Vegas was, and that comes down to each and every guy. We did produce a lot in the regular season — we were a really good five-on-five team. 

“On a team and personal level we could have been better. It stings now.” 

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In the end the better team, with more players who made a mark on this series, were victorious. 

“It’s tough to find words right now,” Draisaitl said in the post-game dressing room. “When you start a season, you’re in it to win it. We’re at that stage, and if you don’t complete that then just feels like a failure. Like a wasted year, almost. So that hurts. 

“I’ve got to take a lot of ownership myself. I wasn’t good tonight.” 

They are one of those teams now where the regular season means very little. The Oilers are a very good team — they’ve solidified that fact — that only has one thing left to do: to become a great team. 

The arrival time on that, unfortunately, is TBA. 

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“The team has gone through it enough times now — I would like to think that way anyways,” Skinner said. “You’ve got to learn how to lose. You’ve got to learn how to win as well. I think we know how to do both.

“So just being able to gather ourselves here in the summer, get to work and know what we’re coming back here to do. 

“And that’s win the Cup.” 

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