Key signs indicate the Edmonton Oilers might finally be ready

This year’s team is showing its callouses in those situations instead of losing its grip

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The Dallas Stars lost the first game against Vegas and Colorado and came back to eliminate both of them in six games, so only a fool would suggest the Edmonton Oilers have accomplished anything in the Western Conference Final other than making them mad.

And history suggests that the team with a short turnaround often gets off to a quick start in the next series while getting a longer rest pays dividends for the other guys as the battle rages on.

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So there is a long way to go against a bounceback team that just dusted the last two Stanley Cup champions.

But, man, are the Edmonton Oilers checking off a lot of boxes in their post-season march.

It’s almost like they saw the list of reasons why they haven’t won in the past and started tearing every one of those reasons to shreds at centre ice.

Like having to rely on power-play goals, for instance.

Don’t look now, but the power play is the second best special team on the Oilers right now. It’s 2-for-13 over the last five games, which isn’t great, but they’ve won four of those games, which is.

Being able to put away quality teams without needing a referee to set the table for their offence (14 of Edmonton’s last 16 goals have come at even strength and they lead the NHL in five-on-five goals in the playoffs) is a weapon this team has been sharpening for some time and now it’s starting to cut.

It’s only a matter of time before the power play comes back to life and adds another lethal dimension to what we’re seeing right now.

POISE UNDER PRESSURE

Remember last year against Vegas, when the Oilers gave up three goals in 1:29 to lose Game 5, then watched a 2-1 lead in Game 6 evaporate in the 14 minutes it took Jonathan Marchessault to score a natural hat trick?

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This year’s team is showing its callouses in those situations instead of losing its grip.

To keep their cool and close out the win after what should have been a psychological death sentence in Game 1 against Dallas — surrendering the tying goal with 3:23 left in the third period and Connor McDavid taking a double minor 17 seconds into OT — is elite-level composure.

And it comes on the heels of refusing to lose after Vancouver turned 3-0 into 3-2 late in Game 7. In a dire and deafening situation that could have been their end, the Oilers didn’t allow another shot in the final 4:36.

At this time of year, when nobody is going down without a fight, keeping one’s cool is the key to survival.

DEPTH PERCEPTION?

The third and fourth lines are not scoring, which is obvious. The bottom six Edmonton dressed for Game 1 has two goals in the playoffs (62 man-games), with Ryan McLeod still searching for his first point.

That’s not good enough and it has to improve at some point.

But they’re getting zone time, applying pressure, creating chances and absolutely, um, killing it on the penalty kill. Never mind McDavid’s double OT winner, Edmonton’s five-for-five penalty killing won Game 1 game and it’s the depth guys who’ve stepped up to save the day all playoffs, killing 37 of 40 penalties so far.

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Derek Ryan played 3:18 short-handed on Thursday, Mattias Janmark 3:23, Connor Brown 3:13, Warren Foegele 2:30 and McLeod 2:54.

In a deep playoff run everyone needs to feel like they’re an important cog in the machine. These guys are getting there. Kick in the odd goal here and there and it’s a bottom six that can get you to the final.

SKIN IN THE GAME

When Stuart Skinner returned to the net for Games 6 and 7 after his struggles early in the Vancouver series, Oilers fan felt like airplane passengers after some heavy turbulence — sure, things got smoother, but everyone was still a little on edge.

Skinner won both games, facing 15 shots in one game and 17 in the other. Solid work, but not enough to make you let go of the arm rests.

Another game or two like his 31-save, .939 save percentage effort on Thursday and people will be roaming the aisles again.

Skinner might be considered the fourth-best goalie in the NHL’s final four, and until a goalie goes all the way, you never know for sure if he’s capable of going all the way, but if he turns into the 12-wins in a row Stuart Skinner we saw in January, Edmonton is probably winning a Stanley Cup this year.

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MR. KOOL

And behind the bench, Kris Knoblauch seems to be exactly what they need. He’s as low key and even keeled as they come, traits shared by most successful coaches, but he’s not afraid to make the tough decision.

He sat Corey Perry when the guy they brought in for his playoff experience wasn’t producing. He split up Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci when the numbers started to bury them. He’s managed the Evander Kane experience nicely. He gave unproven Dylan Holloway a chance to prove himself. He settled things down during the potential implosion in Vancouver.

And he made the move Jay Woodcroft wouldn’t make last year when Skinner started to falter. Then, after two excellent games from Pickard, made the decision to go back with Skinner because he’s their guy.

He has the kind of chess pieces that coaches dream of, but the rookie bench boss is making all the right moves.

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