The Edmonton Oilers will face elimination for the first time this postseason at Rogers Place tonight (May 14), when they host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vegas defeated Edmonton 4-3 at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (May 12) to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and now are one victory from advancing to the Western Conference Final.
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The Oilers need two wins to keep their championship hopes alive and can draw upon the opening round of the 2022 Playoffs when they rallied with back-to-back wins to advance after falling behind 3-2 against the Los Angeles Kings.
But before they can even think of Game 7, which would be on Tuesday (May 16) in Las Vegas, the Oilers need to take care of business in Game 6. Edmonton’s hopes of surviving beyond Sunday may hinge on the performances of several Oilers who have been MIA of late. Here are six Oilers who need to step up in Game 6:
Barely more than a week ago, it was unimaginable to think that Draisaitl would be one of the Oilers needing to step his game up, but after a historic start to the playoffs with 13 goals in eight games, the German forward has gone goalless in three straight contests.
In the 2023 Postseason, Edmonton is 5-2 when Draisaitl scores a goal and 1-3 when he doesn’t. Dating back to 2017, Drasaitil has gone six straight games in which Edmonton faces elimination without scoring a goal. The Oilers might be cleaning out their lockers for the summer if that streak reaches seven.
With someone who plays so close to — and sometimes goes over — the edge as does Kane, there will always be the good and the bad.
Last year, on their run to the Western Conference Final, the Oilers got lots of the former, with Kane scoring 13 playoff goals, including five in the second round when Edmonton beat the Calgary Flames 4-1.
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This year, it’s been a lot more of the latter; Kane has yet to register so much as a point in the first five games of the Vegas series, but he’s spent an NHL-leading 46 minutes in the sin bin during the playoffs and has taken a number of needless and untimely penalties. Whether the Oilers continue playing in the future in 2023 may depend on if Kane plays like the past in 2022.
Nugent-Hopkins has been unable to carry the momentum from his most prolific regular season, in which he scored a career-high 37 goals, into the postseason: the longest-serving Oiler has tallied just one in 11 games, which included a stretch of nine consecutive contests without a goal. His longest goalless drought in the 2022-23 regular season was four games.
The 30-year-old’s brilliant regular season was a big part of why Edmonton won 50 games for the first time since 1986-87, so his steep drop in production has been felt that much more acutely this postseason. Nugent-Hopkins snapped his drought with a goal the last time the Oilers played at Rogers Place, and his home fans hope to see him tally again tonight; if not, it could be months before they so much as see him play again.
The Oilers certainly could have used Nurse in Game 5, but the veteran blueliner was unavailable after being suspended one game for instigating a fight in Edmonton’s Game 4 victory. Given he’s playing more than 23 minutes a night this postseason, most among Oilers blueliners, Nurse’s absence had a ripple effect down the lineup on Edmonton’s back end.
Fresh from his forced game off, Nurse will surely log heavy minutes on Sunday, providing him plenty of opportunity to atone for missing Game 5.
After giving up four goals on 22 shots in 35:34 on Friday, Skinner got the hook by coach Jay Woodcroft and was replaced by Jack Campbell for the third time in Edmonton’s last eight games. He’s the first goalie in Oilers history to be pulled from a game for reasons unrelated to injury more than twice in a single postseason.
Since Game 3 of the first round, Skinner has a 3.88 goals-against average (GAA) and an .885 save percentage (SV%), while Campbell has been excellent in relief, posting a 1.19 GAA and a .957 SV%, including stopping all nine shots he faced on Friday.
Related: Oilers’ Should Stick with Skinner in Game 6
Despite this, there’s a sense in Oil Country that Woodcroft will go back to Skinner for Game 6. If that is indeed the case, the Calder Trophy finalist needs to play to the level that his coach believes he can. If Skinner starts and struggles, Oil Country will spend all summer dissecting Woodcroft’s goaltending decisions.
Yamamoto was the hero for Edmonton in Game 6 of the first round, notched the series-winning goal late in the third period. That’s the only time scoring a goal in what has not been a very good postseason thus far for the diminutive forward, who has just four points and is tied with Nugent-Hopkins with a team-worst minus-four rating through 11 games.
The Oilers need a lot more from Yamamoto, and they need it more than just once every two weeks. But if he can score another clutch goal tonight, his substandard play will be quickly forgiven if not forgotten.
It goes without saying that the Oilers will need continued strong play from the likes of Connor McDavid, who is coming off an under-the-radar two-goal performance in Game 5, and Evan Bouchard, who added two more power-play points on Friday to his incredible playoff total of 15, which is tied for third-most in a single postseason in NHL history. If just a few of the aforementioned players can elevate their play in Game 6, the Oilers will be back at 20,000 feet on their way to Las Vegas for Game 7.