‘We knew what was at stake’: Oilers deliver best game of series to force Game 7

Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had three-point nights and Stuart Skinner made 14 saves as the Edmonton Oilers forced a Game 7 with a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

EDMONTON — It’s a series that has had everything. And now, it gives us a Western Canadian Game 7.

Say what you want about an Edmonton Oilers team whose Stanley Cup roadmap met with an elimination game this early in the journey. When the best game of this series was required, what poured out of that Oilers locker room was as good as it gets in Game 6.

“The boys were ready from the start. We knew what was at stake tonight,” said Dylan Holloway, who weaved through the Canucks’ top defence pair to score the prettiest goal of his NHL career just 8:18 into the night. “There were probably a bit of nerves, but once we got settled in we played our game, rolled all four lines, and never looked back.”

Edmonton grabbed this tilt by the throat and squeezed the life out of the Vancouver Canucks, scoring five five-on-five goals in a 5-1 shellacking.

By period, the Canucks had shot totals of four, five and six — a mere 15 shots on Stuart Skinner in total. It was the first night in this series where fans didn’t sweat it out to the final horn — or beyond — in a one-goal game, with Edmonton posting two unanswered goals in each of the last two periods.

“Vancouver, they have a really good even-strength game,” said Darnell Nurse, who was darn near perfect in 19:21 of ice time. “For us to be able to get to our five-on-five game and play strong throughout the night was huge.”

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Folks around this series had been quietly predicting a game like this since the outset. The Canucks, however, had made them all eat their words so far.

In fact, there was a moment in Period 2 that had “Canucks comeback” written all over it:

Leading 3-1, the Oilers had blown a lengthy five-on-three opportunity, and now it was the Canucks with a two-man advantage of their own. It was a full minute to make the score 3-2 heading into the second intermission.

But the Oilers held serve, killed off another 48 seconds of power-play time to open Period 3, and after six close games, one team pulled away from the other, as the steady Arturs Silovs fished five pucks out of his net for the first time this spring.

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“The penalty kill (four-for-four) was outstanding again, keeping momentum on our side,” said Zach Hyman, who snapped a four-game scoring drought with one from the low slot. “If they score a goal there, things are a little different. But it’s 3-1, a huge five-on-three kill to start the third and we go out and get the next one.

“That’s the dagger.”

In the end, the Oilers big boys who were silent in Game 5 came to play in Game 6. But along with the points — three each for Evan Bouchard, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid, two for Leon Draisaitl — came a defensive masterpiece.

This was a game these superstars did not have in their bag a couple of years ago, when they could beat you with offence and a wicked power play, but no other way. Today, McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins can smother you defensively, and cash in on the scoring chances that result.

They are a three-headed beast in a game like this one, and it started with their absolute control of this penultimate contest.

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“I thought it started away from our defensive zone,” McDavid said. “We did a good job of getting in on the forecheck, holding on to pucks and playing in their zone. Making them defend and making it hard for them to work up the ice.

“I thought we played faster, we played cleaner, we were better with the puck, better coming through the neutral zone.”

In career game No. 60, Draisaitl notched his 60th career playoff assist and career playoff point No. 100. Sixty apples in 60 post-season games is a feat accomplished by only three others: Wayne Gretzky (43 games), Connor McDavid (54) and Mario Lemieux (58).

Meanwhile, Bouchard delivered another tour de force on a one-goal, three-point night, wiring home a key slapper that gave Edmonton their two-goal cushion after 40 minutes. He’s crushing the head-to-head battle with Quinn Hughes in this series, outscoring Hughes 4-0, has him 9-4 in points, and Bouchard sports a healthy plus-7 to Hughes’ plus-1 in the series.

“I guess now we’re going to play seven games and things are going to happen,” said Hughes, who like his team, may have had his worst game of the series on a sudsy Saturday night at Rogers Place. “It’s hard to play seven amazing games.” 

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The good news for the Canucks is they’ve nullified Edmonton’s lethal power play, killing off the last nine consecutively.

The bad news? Edmonton just beat them by four and didn’t even score a power-play goal. Now, they’re due.

They’ll have two days, these Canucks, to figure out why they came up with their worst effort in the biggest game thus far in the series — much like Edmonton said about itself in Game 5.

And the Oilers? They just proved that, when it’s time to dig in and dig deep, the game they can conjure up is awfully hard to beat.

Play that little bit better in Vancouver Monday night, and this series might be theirs after all.

“We have guys in this locker room who are so talented, but they’re winners,” said defenceman Vincent Desharnais. “They’re here to win and it showed tonight.

“It’s going to show again on Monday.”

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