Oilers Goaltending Has to Be the Difference vs. Golden Knights

The Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights match up well on paper. The Golden Knights finished the regular season with 51 wins to the Oilers’ 50 wins. But after watching the Boston Bruins get bounced in the first round after a record-setting regular season, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a whole new ball game. In a Stanley Cup Playoff series featuring high-powered stars such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jack Eichel, and Alex Pietrangelo, my hunch is the Oilers Golden Knights series will most likely be decided by goaltending.

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Edmonton Oilers Vegas Golden Knights
Edmonton Oilers Vegas Golden Knights (The Hockey Writers)

That’s why I give a slight advantage to the Oilers. I believe the Oilers’ tandem of Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell offer Edmonton a bit more strength in the crease than the Las Vegas trio of Laurent Brossoit, Jonathan Quick and Adin Hill.

Skinner Gained Momentum in Series Against the Kings

After a stretch of tough games for Skinner in Games 1 through 4 in the Oilers’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, he seemed to have found his form in Games 5 and 6. Despite a broken stick and tough goal against in the late stages of Game 6, Skinner’s 40-stop performance and .909 save percentage in Game 6 were exactly what the Oilers needed from their rookie starter. Skinner didn’t look like himself for stretches of the L.A. series, especially early on. It could’ve been nerves or a regular season hangover. But whatever the case, he recaptured his Calder Trophy-worthy form exactly when it counted, and I expect him to continue his strong play in the series against the Golden Knights.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Luckily, Campbell had a huge performance in Game 4 against the Kings, which included a season-saving pad save against Kings forward Viktor Arvidsson to keep the Oilers within a goal of the Kings in the dying minutes of Game 4. That save alone helped increase the team’s confidence in Campbell, and it most likely did wonders for Campbell himself, who has had his share of challenges in the Oilers’ 2022-23 NHL Season. If Skinner were to falter at any time against the Golden Knights, I don’t think there would be any hesitation from the coaching staff to put Campbell in.

Brossoit Beat One of the Best Goalies in the World in Round One

It’s hard not to cheer for Brossoit. He underwent hip surgery after last season, cleared waivers last November, and played 23 games in the AHL this season. After a rash of injuries to the Golden Knights’ group of goaltenders, Brossoit emerged as their number-one goalie down the stretch and led Vegas to the top seed in the NHL’s Western Conference.

In the Golden Knights’ five-game series victory over the Winnipeg Jets, Brossoit was much better than his former teammate Connor Hellebuyck — a goalie many consider to be one of the top puck stoppers in the world. In the Vegas-Winnipeg series, Brossoit had a .915 save percentage in five games, while Hellebuyck had a .886 save percentage, the third lowest among goalies to play at least three games in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Adam Lowry Winnipeg Jets Laurent Brossoit Vegas Golden Knights
Laurent Brossoit of the Vegas Golden Knights makes a save against Adam Lowry of the Winnipeg Jets as Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights defends in the third period of Game One of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Backing up Brossoit is two-time Stanley Cup Champion Jonathan Quick, who was brought in at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline from Los Angeles via the Columbus Blue Jackets. Quick played well in his first few starts for the Golden Knights but lost the starting job to Brossoit. The wear and tear of an NHL Hall of Fame career may have finally gotten to Quick, although he still may have some magic left if called upon in the playoffs. The Golden Knights’ third goalie is Adin Hill, who was injured in early March, but was skating with the team during the Winnipeg series. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether Hill will supplant Quick as the backup to Brossoit in the series against the Oilers.

Time Off and Team Bonding Will Help The Oilers

The Oilers stayed in Southern California after the final game of their series against the Kings on April 30. They’ve been using this time to heal from their injuries, get in some quality practices and bond together. All of these factors, especially the time for the team to rest and recover, could help re-energize the Oilers in their second-round series against Vegas. Another factor to consider is that the Oilers players will be away from the distractions of the crazed hockey madhouse that Edmonton is at the moment and help the team focus on what they have to do in Vegas.

Prediction for Oilers & Golden Knights

The Oilers overcame the strong performance early in the L.A. series from Kings netminder Joonas Korpisalo and looked like they had worn him down by the final three games. It was eerily reminiscent of how they got to Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom in the 2022 Playoffs. My guess is they will do the same to Brossoit and the Golden Knights goaltenders.

Related: Bruins’ Ullmark Disaster Could Affect Oilers’ Goalie Playoff Strategy

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I have a soft spot for Brossoit. He is a former Oilers backup and a former Edmonton Oil King starter who took the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup in 2012. He’s an underdog who has overcome a lot of adversity to get his chance to shine in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I think the high-powered Oilers offence, including the NHL’s best power play, will eventually wear him and the Golden Knights’ defence down.

I’m predicting the Oilers will ride the steady goaltending of Skinner and Campbell and score timely goals to advance to the Western Conference Final in 6 Games. What say you? Who are you picking in this series?

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