Stars need to ‘reset’ after Oilers flip script in Game 4

Mattias Janmark and Leon Draisaitl scored two goals within a minute and Connor McDavid tallied three assists as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Dallas Stars 5-2 to even up their Western Conference Final series at 2-2.

EDMONTON – This Western Conference Final should be sponsored by Zig-Zag rolling papers.

Not just because both these teams tend to zag every time you think they’ll zig, but because you’d have to be smoking something to think you can predict which way this series will go next.

Who knows what to take from the Game 4 rollercoaster Wednesday, when it was the Edmonton Oilers’ turn to light the joint ablaze by flipping an early 2-0 deficit on its ear with a 5-2 win that knotted the series 2-2?

If you hadn’t seen any previous games in this battle you’d have made the mistake of assuming early in Wednesday’s game the Stars were going to sweep both games in Alberta when Wyatt Johnston’s game-opening shot put the visitors up 1-0 a mere 58 seconds in.

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Five minutes later another 21-year-old, Logan Stankoven, had the Stars up 2-0 in a game that would have been 3-0 if Roope Hintz could have converted on an early breakaway.

Cue the (latest) dramatic turnaround, when Ryan McLeod revived the Rogers Place crowd with a rebound finish 13 minutes in that changed everything.

Evan Bouchard evened it before the intermission and Mattias Janmark, of all people, scored the short-handed winner midway through the second period of a game the Oilers dominated 50 minutes of.

And just like that, the Oilers are back in the series, and doing so with a team that has seen its penalty killers outscore its vaunted power-play unit four games in.

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“That was a kick in the butt,” said Jamie Benn, whose club is scoreless with the man advantage this series, going 0-for-2 on the night.

“Their penalty kill is good. I think they’ve been pretty good all playoffs. They put a lot of pressure on you. We’ll have to be creative here and try to break it down.”

His summation after the game?

“They’re not just going to hand it to us,” said Benn.

“Our start was better than last game, but they made a strong push.

“No team wants to go down 3-1 in a series. They had a strong effort tonight and got it done.

“We need to reset here. We’re going to learn from it, and we have a great opportunity in front of us — a best of three on home ice here.”

Neither team appears to have learned anything about sustaining early momentum, other than understanding pushbacks are going to happen when the difference between two juggernauts is so razor-thin.

“This isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be pretty,” said Stars coach Pete DeBoer, whose 16 years of coaching experience has taught him a thing or two about remaining even-keel through times like these.

“As much preparation as we can do to manage momentum swings and things like that, you’ve got the four best teams in the league left. That’s what it’s going to look like.

“If it takes seven games in OT, it takes seven games in OT.”

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Even though the Stars didn’t allow a shot on goal until eight minutes into the evening, (the Oilers’ fourth significant shotless stretch in this series) DeBoer said he wasn’t thrilled with his group and its lead, which indeed turned out to be flimsy.

“We got up 2-0 and got the start we wanted but I don’t think we had enough guys playing at a high enough level that was real,” he said.

“That said, if Roope Hintz’s breakaway extends the lead to 3-0 — a lot like the game before if they go to 3-0 on their power play, maybe it switches things. We didn’t.

“The rest of the game they were the better team.”

Mirroring the Oilers’ optimism after settling for a split in Dallas, DeBoer pointed out the Stars accomplished in Alberta what they hoped for.

“We came here and got a split and got home ice back,” he said.

“It’s two-out-of-three to go to the Stanley Cup Final.”

Who has the edge now is anyone’s guess, as the narrative surrounding Dallas’s depth advantage changed slightly on Wednesday.

Not only did healthy scratch insertions of McLeod, Corey Perry and Philip Broberg help make a difference in the game, but the Stars may now need to respond in kind with the possible absence of Chris Tanev.

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Tanev hobbled out of the game favouring his right foot after blocking an Evander Kane blast in the second period and did not return.

That’s very unlike the playoff’s shot-blocking leader, raising concern a Stars team that counts on five defencemen to carry most of the load may have to insert a veteran like Derrick Pouliot, or 20-year-old first-rounder Lian Bichsel, if Tanev or Jani Hakanpaa aren’t healthy enough to play.

“He’s done it all since he’s got here, he’s put his body on the line, defending well and making plays,” said Joe Pavelski of the former Flames defender known commonly as the Ultimate Warrior.

“He did it again and we’ll see where he’s at.”

We’ll see where everything is at on Friday when Game 5 is played at American Airlines Center. 

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