Matheson: 'Big goal' Broberg balances pressure, excitement in Game 5

‘He was a one-man breakout at times and that’s what he has to do to be successful.’

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As a saucy Edmonton Oilers fan on X, formerly twitter, said Friday night, Philip Broberg now has more playoff goals this spring than Quinn Hughes, the formidable Vancouver defenceman and likely Norris trophy winner, who played a whopping 317 minutes before the Oilers put that team out in Game 7 of round 2.

Who knew, eh?

Broberg, in his second-ever playoff game this spring, ripped that 55-footer through heavy traffic in the second period as Matt Duchene blocked the view of his goalie Jake Oettinger for the 3-0 Oiler goal. When the puck sailed past Oettinger’s glove, Broberg raised his hands to the heavens.

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He sat for the first 15 playoff games before coach Kris Knoblauch made another of his tactical moves, replacing big Vincent Desharnais for Game 4. Heady stuff since Broberg had actually started the playoffs as No. 8 on the depth chart behind Troy Stecher, but Stecher had a cyst on his ankle that became infected and he had surgery in Charlotte, N.C., Friday.

Lordy, lordy, but the surprising goal by Broberg, who had five goals and 33 assists down in Bakersfield before a late season recall, was the exclamation point to another solid two-way (13 minute) night for the 2019 first-round draft pick. There were no signs of butterflies from Broberg, who was given every chance to make the team out of training camp but didn’t seize it, went back to the AHL, dominated, and now, on the biggest NHL stage, hasn’t dropped the ball, at all.

Maybe some day he’ll replace fellow Swede Oscar Klefbom in Oil Country hearts as a top 4 left-shot D after Klefbom’s unfortunate early end to his NHL career because his shoulder was wrecked. That’s down the road a spell, but right now, maybe Broberg has arrived as a true NHLer, like Dylan Holloway, who also spent considerable time on the farm and has three goals this playoff season.

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Broberg played a clean 14 minutes in Game 4 with Cody Ceci in the third D pair and after two early bobbles in Game 5, he went to the Oiler bench for a short chat and a pat on the shoulder from Paul Coffey. Broberg resumed play and looked like a guy who had played 22 post-season games, not just these last two which span fewer than 30 minutes.

Pat on the shoulder from Coffey

Positive reinforcement from Coffey and Broberg was positively noticeable in a good way.

“Brobie was put into a really difficult situation in Game 4, which was pretty much a must-win for us. He came in and played really well and tonight (Game 5), I thought he continued to build on his game,” said Knoblauch, applauding the work of Coffey.

“Paul’s been great, he’s pushed buttons, he’s pulled strings. He’s done a really good job through the season doing that (with the Oiler defence corps). When to be hard on guys and when to push them but in a game like this, Broberg doesn’t need any more pressure,” said Knoblauch.

“He doesn’t need to be motivated. He makes a mistake and for him to then get pat on the shoulder from a Hall of Fame defenceman who is running the defensive side, that means a lot to him.”

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Broberg was all ears as Coffey talked.

“I’m just trying to find my game, make plays out there. Sometimes I make mistakes and things don’t work out. He just says keep your head high,” said Broberg.

While Coffey was a cheerleader for Broberg, captain Connor McDavid was also offering up a “gimme a B, gimme an R, gimme an O.”

“I thought he was amazing,” said the Oiler captain.

“Obviously a big goal from him,” said 97, “but he was skating everywhere, retrieving pucks, getting them out of our zone. He was a one-man breakout at times and that’s what he has to do to be successful. His legs are a gift and he has to use them.”

Broberg balance

Broberg played 20 even-strength shifts and also got 49 seconds on one of the two Oiler penalty-kills that ran their record to 25 straight, and 43 of 46 in the playoffs. He had three blocks, including a crucial one in the high slot in the third after Wyatt Johnston squeezed past him on the wall, as the Stars pressed.

“Just trying to play my game, just trying to help the team win,” said Broberg, who has yet to offer up a word salad when asked questions about himself. He did say it was tough to sit and just practise for weeks, especially on an Oiler blueline that has basically played the same six D — Mattias Ekholm, Evan Bouchard, Darnell Nurse, Ceci, Brett Kulak and Desharnais — for every single game from last October until now.

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But getting in, he has balanced the furnace-like pressure and the excitement well.

“I’m enjoying every second,” said Broberg, who laughed shyly when asked who he would call first to tell them about his first playoff goal.

“I dunno, probably my family and my girlfriend. Nice that I got the goal, nicer that we got the win,” said Broberg.

Knoblauch, who has pushed all the right buttons in the playoffs, thought Desharnais, a big part of the best PK in the regular-season and playoffs, and Nurse’s partner through much of the post-season, needed a reset. So in came Broberg, who had played nine games last spring but sometimes as a seventh defenceman under Jay Woodcroft.

It seemed a bit of a Hail Mary from Knoblauch playing him in Game 4, three rounds into the playoffs after sitting so long, but not now.

“In the first game Broberg gave us everything we wanted. We wanted his ability to move the puck up like the way Darnell covers the ice with his reach. Similar to that, but not quite the strength of Darnell,” said Knoblauch.

“You never know what you’re going to get from a defenceman coming into his first game (deep into a playoff run). It’s not easy..but he handled it well. We only saw him for a couple of games at the end of the regular-season season but we were confident in what he could do, plus the reports on how well he had played in Bakersfield.

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“It was a tough decision to take out Vinny but for what we wanted to do we had to change things a little bit. And he was odd man out.”

On the bench

In the first period, we got the unlikeliest of the collisions between two 39-year-olds when Stars Joe Pavelski drilled Corey Perry on a shoulder to shoulder hit. Perry went to the Oiler dressing room favouring his right arm and shoulder. He wasn’t on the bench to start the second frame but did return later in the period Maybe it was just a stinger. Pavelski was playing his 200th playoff game and Perry No. 208, which tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr.

And another outstanding game from Nurse, who played a strong, direct, smart hockey game after his terrific Game 4 when he had 12 hits.

McDavid barely lost a face-off, winning 10 of 12.

With his two assists Bouchard became the third fastest defenceman to hit 50 playoff points, doing it in game 45. Bobby Orr (39) and Brian Leetch (41) did it faster.

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