Oilers just not making the big plays at crunch time against Stars

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss Game 3 of the Oilers-Stars series, including Edmonton needing a hero to step up late in the game, and how Roope Hintz affected Dallas in his return to the lineup.

EDMONTON — Find a goal, find a save. Find a way to stem the tide when the Dallas Stars start doing their thing, rolling line after line better than any team left standing in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Edmonton Oilers didn’t do any of those things Monday in a 5-3 loss in Game 3, giving up three goals in a 3:33 span in the second period, then watching Jason Robertson bank his hat-trick goal off of Stuart Skinner’s skate, then backside, and into the net.

For the second game in a row, the Stars made the play in a tie game that Edmonton couldn’t, and now the Oilers are chasing this series, down two games to one.

“The fourth goal, it looks bad,” said Skinner. “Overall, I played a pretty solid game. But if you look at it, you just can’t be letting in four goals. Especially against the Dallas Stars, how good they are defensively.”

The goal was brilliant on Robertson’s part, and represents a big-game player making a big play at a huge moment. And if you think the guy known as Robo by his teammates was making it up as he went along, think again.

“(That) goal was the most Robo goal I think you’re going to score,” said veteran Tyler Seguin, who has watched his teammate work with the goalie coach and backup Scott Wedgewood on that exact play. “I think they might talk about the goalie, but that’s just a Robo shot there.”

“I thought he was going to shoot five-hole, so I went down,” replayed Skinner. “He got me to bite, went around and banked it off me. I tried my best in the quickness of the situation and Robertson was able to make a pretty good play.

“But it’s something that I’ve got to save.”

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In a 3-3 playoff game, with eight minutes to play, you need that save from your goaler — full stop. (No pun intended.)

However, if an Oiler had scored that goal to win this Game 3, no one in Edmonton would be talking about Stars goalie Jake Oettinger on Tuesday morning. But the Oilers haven’t been able to find that late goal, still awaiting their first third-period goal in the series.

They need more playmakers, more help on the “new-hero-every-night” front if this playoff run is to reach Round 4. They need something, perhaps the something that Dallas has found in Games 2 and 3.

“That ‘something’ was almost Vinny (Desharnais), seven minutes left with a one-timer off the goalpost,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “You know, that was almost our play.”

He’s right, of course. But “almost” doesn’t get you to the Stanley Cup Final, unfortunately.

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The Oilers outshot Dallas 13-3 in the third period, but Dallas scored twice on Robertson’s sneaky effort and Miro Heiskanen’s empty netter, while Oettinger held his ground, winning the battle of the goaltenders on a night where Edmonton owned the shot clock 30-22.

Afterwards, the Oilers were lamenting their second-period lapse as much as their inability to score a third-period goal. After a first period in which Connor McDavid was all world with a goal and an assist to build a 2-0 lead, the Stars absolutely dominated the opening half of the middle frame, a flex that showed everyone how good they can be with their leader, Roope Hintz, back in their lineup.

“I’m not sure where those 10, 15 minutes come from,” McDavid said, “but it’s as bad as it’s been throughout the playoffs.”

“We let one get away there, obviously,” he lamented. “Series are short, and you only get a handful of games.”

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With Hintz back as their first-line centre, the Stars looked like themselves again.

Their depth and style — stretching the game with a winger who continually sneaks behind the opposition’s defencemen — are a thing to behold, and a mountain these Oilers are going to have to climb if they are to win three of the remaining four games of this series.

“The playoffs, throughout games there are momentum swings. When you don’t have it, you’ve got to wrestle it back,” McDavid said. “They’re a great team and they’re well coached. When they get into that stretch game and they get it going up and down the rink, it’s it makes us look pretty disconnected.”

Game 4 goes Wednesday in Edmonton.

It’s as must-win as it’s going to get at this stage for the Oilers, who must show the hockey world that — like Dallas — they too have another level to get to.

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