Craig MacTavish: Oilers' strong defensive play provides perfect re-entry for Skinner

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For me, the Oilers gave Stu Skinner the perfect start and allowed him to touch the puck a little bit, a couple of handles, but there wasn’t an abundance of work, I think just four shots in the first period. I know him to be a tough guy but it was a difficult situation for him with a lot of pressure. And the team helped him get into the game.

It was a perfect start and a perfect end with the team getting up 3-1, then 4-1. As a goalie it allowed Skinner to get right back into the flow of his game going into Game 7.

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Skinner is a good team guy, I know that about him. The first thing out of his mouth when he did an interview (post-game) was to complement Cal (Pickard) on how well he had played (games 4 and 5) and to support him. It’s no small act of courage to go in there in an elimination game, I’m sure. It’s a testament to his mental resolve.

I think both coaches (Kris Knoblauch and Rick Tocchet) have done an amazing job preparing their teams and bouncing back after losses. Making adjustments and pushing the right buttons, saying the right things. Kris, I thought, was again very good in his post-game (interview). He didn’t give up much but what he did give up was bang-on for me.

He acknowledged that Vancouver could have played better (Game 6) and his team had to play better (elimination game). It reminded me of playing against Carolina (Stanley Cup Finals) in 2006 where we completely outplayed them in Game 6. It was like what the Oilers did to Vancouver on Saturday.

The mistake that is made is assuming that period one in Game 7 is going to be period four of Game 6. It will be completely different. Kris was on point saying that the Oilers can’t be satisfied with where they are right now.

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The Canucks dominated Game 5. The Oilers had a difficult time breaking the puck out and making plays along the wall. Game 6 was the inverse.

Oilers stars showed up

I thought the Fab Five was great. Connor (McDavid) had three assists. (Evan) Bouchard was plus-4, (Mattias) Ekholm plus-3, (Zach) Hyman scored, Leon was a beast again and the Oilers had performances out of their secondary group of threats.

RNH (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) was very good, and Dylan Holloway, the goal he scored got me out of my seat and that’s hard to do after 40 plus years of playing and watching NHL games. It was a vintage McDavid goal. McDavid, I’m sure, now knows what it’s like for the rest of the players to watch that.

That goal was no easy feat by Dylan. Plus he made so many plays. It’s so good to see him exchanging plays with Leon. That line with (Evander) Kane, he was a beast all night. I thought Kane was on the ice the whole time but when I looked, he was only out there for 13 minutes of ice time. We can’t forget about that level of performance from Kane when we’re criticizing him next year for his drama. That wins games.

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What was also important was Connor won the matchup against (J.T.) Miller in Game 6 and the Oilers scored a couple of goals with Connor out there against him. And Leon won a faceoff to Kane for the goal, against Miller. Miller has won a couple of faceoffs against Leon resulting in Vancouver goals.

And Leon’s now the third fastest player to hit 100 points. He’s just an amazing player built for playoff hockey and he captured what everybody was thinking in his interview before the game when he said, “We’re paid for moments like this. We have to show up.” He put a lot of emphasis on himself, particularly on himself and Connor. That was impressive.

Going back to the five-on-three Vancouver had. The Oiler penalty for too many men (to give Vancouver the two-man advantage) is rarely the coach’s fault. When you are changing for somebody, you can’t take your eyes off that player until they get to the bench. You want to get the jump, you want to take the four or five feet they will allow you, but there are some guys a little worse at changing than other guys.

I remember (assistant coach) Charlie Huddy always used to keep one arm or one hand on Janne Niinimaa’s shoulder because Janne got a bit zonked (or did you mean zoned?) out. Charlie was responsible for making sure Janne wouldn’t jump on the ice until the guy got to the bench.

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Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers’ Sam Carrick (39) battles the Vancouver Canucks’ Filip Hronek (17) during third period NHL playoff action at Rogers Place, in Edmonton Saturday May 18, 2024. The Oilers won 5-1.  Photo by David Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia

Adjustments paid off

The Oilers had the five-on-three as well but I thought their power play overall in Game 6 was much different than Game 5. They didn’t have much time in the offensive zone in Vancouver. They had a lot of really good looks and they had control of the puck the whole time in Game 6. It looked like they made the right adjustments.

Speaking of adjustments, I’m sure it was a tough call for Kris to tell a veteran who’s as accomplished as much as Corey Perry has that he’s not going to play in an elimination game. But Kris knows if a coach can’t do the hard things, then it’s hard to to ask the players to do the same.

(Sam) Carrick came in and was good, six hits. He’s heavy on the puck and hard and cycled the puck a bit. I saw Kris had him out against Miller and he looked him right in the eye pretty aggressively. That’s important stuff in playoff hockey.

I’ve always liked (Derek) Ryan, too. He gets a lot of that little body. He’s a tenacious guy and he’s doing more in the games than he gets credit for. He’s a competitor.

I know Game 6 (for the visiting team) is always hard to win so you step back and know you have another opportunity. The Oilers will probably be favoured, but Game 7s always come down to a coin toss. These are two very well-matched teams and home ice has proven to not be an important factor throughout the whole of these playoffs. That said, Game 7 at home, is a factor. It’s definitely an advantage.

I remember the Game 7 in Carolina (2006). We were a bit flat, coming out of the big win here, and Kris is already putting in place the pieces to make sure that doesn’t happen now. I’m wildly excited to see Game 7.

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