Edmonton Oilers show will and skill to thrill on kill to reach final

Special teams have certainly been extra special throughout the Oilers run to the Stanley Cup Final

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There’s your regular everyday run-of-the-mill special teams, and then there is the Edmonton Oilers.

What they’ve done in these playoffs on the way to reaching just their second Stanley Cup Final in 18 years is offer up a slice of something extra special.

Whether a man up or a man down, the Oilers are putting up a superhuman effort on special teams, the latest of which saw them outscore the Dallas Stars 5-0 on the way to securing the Western Conference final Sunday in six games.

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Two of those goals came on a power play that went 2-for-2 in that 2-1 win, while going 4-for-11 in the series, combined with a penalty kill that went 14-for-14 in the series, including a short-handed goal by Mattias Janmark that proved to be a turning point in a crucial Game 4 victory.

It was the second series in these playoffs where the Oilers didn’t give up a goal while playing shorthanded, as they enter the final round on a run of 28 straight successful penalty kills and has gone an unfathomable 46-of-49 throughout these playoffs.

“I look back at where that all started on the penalty kill, the penalty kill when I got here was struggling,” said Knoblauch, who inherited a unit that had converted 35-for-50 (70.0 per cent) on the penalty kill, while the power play had gone 11-for-46 (23.9 per cent) over the first 13 games. “And I’m not taking any credit on this penalty kill, it is Mark Stuart’s job and he’s done a fantastic job. The only thing I will take credit for is giving him that responsibility. I didn’t know Mark at all, but I gave him that job and I don’t think we would be here if it wasn’t for him.

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“And I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know Mark. He’d never run the penalty kill and I didn’t know him as a coach. I knew he was fairly green and hadn’t been doing this very long, but there weren’t many options and we gave him that responsibility and he has done a fabulous job with it. I don’t think we’d be here today if our penalty kill hadn’t been as strong as it had been through all the series.”

If there is one representative of Edmonton’s special teams this year, it’s Mattias Ekholm. The veteran defenceman plays on the second-unit power play and the first-unit penalty kill on the way to a team-high plus-minus ratio of plus-44 that ranked third overall in the regular season.

Here in the playoffs, he is one of four Oilers in the top 10, including defensive partner Evan Bouchard, who leads the league at plus-14.

Special teams contributed to those numbers, but have made an even bigger impact on the scoreboard, especially when the Oilers power play got going late against the Stars, earning a pair of goals in both Games 5 and 6 after going 0-for-6 over the first four games.

“Huge, I think it’s probably the biggest determining factor in the series,” Ekholm said. “If you look at our success on the penalty kill and you look at our power play going here the last two games, that’s the series right there. It’s an even series before that. I’m not saying you can’t score 5-on-5 in the playoffs, but it’s hard to score 5-on-5, you have to have a strong special teams.

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“In these last three games, they (drew) penalties at key times in the third when there’s still a lot on the line and we almost take their will with our kill and give us momentum. So, Kudos to Mark Stuart, kudos to us on the kill to make sure that we did that in a good way and I thought that was one of the determining factors in the series.”

Stuart Skinner ended up winning the goaltending duel against Dallas’s Jake Oettinger that he might otherwise not have had any business winning, thanks in big part to the goals earned on the man-advantage and not surrendered while shorthanded.

“I think both teams were incredible on both sides, power plays and PKs,” Skinner said. “Obviously the last two games we were able to get some huge power-play goals, and they weren’t pretty. They were gritty — obviously the one McDavid had was pretty — but they were gritty goals and it’s hard to win the special-teams battle.

“And the way that we were able to do that against a team like this is pretty special.”

Extra special, even.

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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