Pacific Push: Oilers making a bid for top spot after huge win over Golden Knights

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a five point night with a goal and four helpers to help lead the Edmonton Oilers to back-to-back road wins, as they defeated division rivals Vegas Golden Knights 7-4.

LAS VEGAS — So, you’re saying there’s a chance … ? 

If the Edmonton Oilers were going to go into these last two weeks of their schedule with even the faintest prayer of chasing first or second place in the Pacific Division, a regulation win here in Vegas was compulsory on Tuesday. 

Then the Los Angeles Kings lost in Calgary, and the Oilers put up a touchdown on Vegas. 

In as dominant a win against a top-tier team as we’ve seen all season, Edmonton chased Jonathan Quick, went three-for-three on the power play and pounded the Vegas Golden Knights, 7-4 — a team Edmonton could well meet in Round 1 of the playoffs. 

“We play like we did tonight, and we’re out,” said Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy of that possible matchup, after his club picked up two points in its final two games against Edmonton, while the Oilers nabbed three. 

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With the Kings’ loss in Cowtown, it sets up a massive game Thursday night in Edmonton, where the Kings will visit the Oilers before hosting them one last time this coming Tuesday. That two-game series, coupled with the fact the Golden Knights have by far the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams, could decide first place in the Pacific. 

Edmonton is one point behind L.A. and three back of Vegas.

“We’re still pushing for home-ice (advantage). I think that does make a difference come playoff time,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who carved out a five-point night (1-4-5) with his 35th goal and 96th point. “They took two points and we just got the one a couple nights ago (in Saturday’s 4-3 OT win) in our building. So, we did respond and did a great job tonight.” 

These two teams do not win the same way, and Cassidy knows it. 

It’s a clash of styles, and if the game gets played the way it was Tuesday in Vegas, the Oilers will win most nights. The Golden Knights need to slow the game down, grind it out and stay out of the penalty box. 

“We only took three penalties,” Cassidy reasoned. “It’s not like we were undisciplined. We just have to kill them.” 

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Edmonton gave a power-play master class that saw their percentage soar to 32.7 per cent on the season — a full seven per cent ahead of second place. 

Remember when we wondered how the unit would fare without Tyson Barrie at the helm? Ah, fun times … 

“We all had confidence that (Evan Bouchard) would be able to step in there and pick up where Tice left off,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s got such an ability to read the play. I think just kind of him being confident up there. It goes a long way for our group.” 

Poor Vegas. 

Gone are the days when holding Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to one goal between them was a recipe for a win. One night after five separate Oilers scored in a 5-4 win at Arizona, the Oilers completed the rare back-to-back road sweep with seven separate marksmen in Vegas. 

With Darnell Nurse scoring his 10th of the season, the Oilers now have 12 players with 10 or more goals. 

It was the second career five-point night for Nugent-Hopkins, who had a five-assist night back on Nov. 19, 2011 — his 19th career NHL game. This one came in career game No. 794, as Nugent-Hopkins became Edmonton’s third 60-assist player this season — with McDavid (83) and Draisaitl (69) — the first such feat since Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri did it in 1985-86. 

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Nugent-Hopkins took a Vegas turnover and neatly whistled a wrister past Quick, the 2-1 goal in an opening 10 minutes that saw Edmonton take a 3-2 lead. 

That wrister is beginning to look vaguely familiar, like another Burnaby, B.C., kid we once knew named Joe Sakic. 

“Well, I appreciate that,” said Nugent-Hopkins, smiling, “but I don’t think it’s quite Joe-like. He definitely was an idol of mine growing up, and he’s also a Burnaby guy. But I definitely don’t think it’s quite that level.” 

The Nuge is killin’ it this season, with career highs in goals (35), assists (61) and points (96). 

“He is just such a good hockey player. It’s crazy,” said Draisaitl. “He doesn’t get nearly enough recognition that he deserves. The things he does are so subtle, and most people don’t realize what he does out there. But it’s just a phenomenal hockey player.” 

And McDavid? All he did was chip in three assists to notch his 71st road point of the season, just the sixth player in NHL history to surpass 70 road points. Gretzky (eight times, with 104 in 1984-85), Mario Lemieux (four times), Steve Yzerman (twice), Brett Hull and Marcel Dionne are the others.

It all boils down to a final seven games where Edmonton is still inexplicably relevant in the conversation at the top of the Pacific. 

Vegas had two left with each of Minnesota and Seattle, and one with the Kings, Nashville and Dallas. Edmonton meanwhile, has a pair with L.A., one at Colorado, and two each with Anaheim and San Jose. 

As for L.A. they get the Oilers twice, Vancouver twice, Seattle, Vegas, Colorado and Anaheim. 

Suddenly, the top of Pacific has become very interesting. 

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