Edmonton Oilers rise from the dead to keep Stanley Cup hopes alive

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On a night when everything they’ve worked for and everything they’ve been trying to build since Connor McDavid arrived in Edmonton nine years ago came down to one home game they absolutely had to win, the Edmonton Oilers showed their mettle.

As they did in coming back from 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits in the Vancouver series, the Oilers rose from the near dead in time to sidestep the freshly-shovelled grave Dallas prepared for them Wednesday night.

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Trailing 2-0 before they had their first shot on net, the Oilers came to life with four-straight goals before the second intermission to post a season-saving 5-2 triumph that turns the Western Conference Final into a best-of-three.

“We knew we were a little sleepy for couple of minutes there and maybe a little unfortunate, but we found our legs, got going a little bit and started to play our game,” said Leon Draisaitl. “We’re a tough team to handle when we play that way.”

It wasn’t an elimination game, just a game that all would all but guarantee their elimination had they lost it. But the Oilers save their best work for these situations, improving to 5-1 in games following a loss this postseason. Coming back from 2-1 down in the series and 2-0 down in the game is a statement.

“They’re a great team, they’re going to grab momentum at times in this series,” forward Connor Brown said of the Stars. “It’s about what we do to go grab it back. We had guys jumping over the boards trying to get the momentum back.

“It stems from the beginning of this year. We were in dead last. We faced adversity all year. It’s gotten to the point where we’re thriving under that adversity, we’re welcoming it and it’s showing here when we need a response.”

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While Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Evan Bouchard played big roles in the win, it was the foot soldiers who turned the tide, with Ryan McLeod getting Edmonton back in the game and Mattias Janmark turning the tide for good with a short-handed marker in the second period.

WHAT WAS THAT?

With their backs to the edge of disaster, everyone expected Edmonton to scream out of the gate with their most ferocious start of the season. Instead, they looked nervous and tentative and it almost cost them the series.

They gave up a goal on the first Dallas shot at 58 seconds and the third one at 5:29. They weren’t throwing hits, they weren’t completing passes. They looked bad for a cold February night against the Anaheim Ducks, much less their last chance to keep a Stanley Cup dream alive.

CUE THE COMEBACK

In some pre-game lineup shuffling that hinted at Edmonton’s desperation, Knoblauch inserted 22-year-old defenceman Philip Broberg into the lineup in place of Vincent Desharnais and pulled McLeod and Corey Perry out of the press box (replacing Sam Carrick and Warren Foegele) and plopped them on the second line.

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Now, when your second line has two guys on it who don’t have a single point between them in the entire playoffs, it’s usually a sign that you’re not getting anywhere near a Stanley Cup. But in a post-season where everything Knoblauch touches has turned to gold, McLeod’s goal at 13:30, assisted by Perry, got the comeback started and brought the crowd back to life from its stunned silence.

“Credit to the guys, it’s not easy to come out of the press box to the second line,” said Brown. “But they did an unbelievable job. That line was the best line for us tonight. When you get that trust from your coach it empowers you.”

Three minutes after that Bouchard tucked in a McDavid rebound and the Oilers were back in business.

KILL SHOT

Edmonton’s penalty kill remains the star of the playoffs, turning the game for good by not only killing their 22nd penalty in a row, but scoring short-handed to make it 3-2 in the second period. Janmark converted the two-on-one pass from Connor Brown on a play that McDavid and Draisaitl couldn’t have done better.

When Draisaitl scored 51 seconds later to make it 4-2, the building got so loud it actually hurt the ears.

Mattias Ekholm’s 190-foot empty netter, Edmonton’s first third-period goal of the series, sealed the win.

BOUNCING BACK

With three assists Wednesday, McDavid had 16 points in the five games after a loss in these playoffs. He has 54 points in 28 career playoff games after a loss, passing Jari Kurri for second-most by an Oilers player. Wayne Gretzky is first with 59 points in 28 games.

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