Not-so-subtle turns of "The Knob" continue to navigate the good ship Oiler through choppy playoff waters

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No one has won (or lost) anything yet.

But it is difficult to look at the body of work that Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Kris Knoblauch has delivered thus far this post season and deduce anything other than he (as a rookie coach in the toughest tournament in sport) has both nerves of steel and a keen sense of just what his club needs and when.

With a massive come-from-behind win in Game 4 Wednesday night, Knoblauch has seemingly righted this ship after it passed through choppy, churning seas in Game 3.

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The players always deserve the bouquets when a team wins and the brick backs when it loses. But for the Oilers, the man at the controls has played more than a significant role with critical lineups adjustments and tweaks along the way.

Consider the evidence…

The Henrique Hustle

The Oilers key deadline acquisition had sat on the disabled list for quite a while and with an ankle injury that seemed to slow even further a guy with not especially quick boots. But Adam Henrique drew back in to Game’s 3 and 4 with terrific showings. He was 75% in the circle last night.

The Brown Bump

Connor Brown endured what had to be one of the most trying regular seasons in NHL memory. And he started this post-season in the press box, too. But he and Mattias Janmark have been the Oilers 2 most impactful Bottom-6 guys ever since he was re-inserted into the lineup.

The D-Pair Deke

The initial swap of Cody Ceci and Vincent Desharnais produced immediate results. The longer, rangy pairing of Nurse-Desharnais seemed to give the Vancouver forwards trouble. And it also seemed to give Ceci a much-needed re-set. He has looked better since. Will a night eating popcorn do the same for Desharnais?

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The Holloway-Perry Parse

The veteran Corey Perry looked slow, perhaps even hurt, in the Vancouver series. It was a gutsy move to take a man with 200+ Stanley Cup Playoff games under his belt and sit him in the press box. But it worked. Perry looked re-born in Game 4, back to his worm-y self. More on him in a minute. Holloway has been impactful.

The Pickard-Skinner Shuffle

Shuffling the deck is one thing. But pulling your #1 goalie in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the guy who started the season as your organizational #3 was bold. But it paid off in spades. Pickard delivered two excellent performances. But more importantly, it gave Skinner the chance to breathe, find himself and re-focus.

Two Men & A Baby

After a tepid performance in Game 3, Knoblauch made no less than three lineup changes. Many, in and outside of the organization, took a doubtful double take. But Corey Perry (13:20, 1A) and Ryan McLeod (16:15, 1G) joined Leon Draisaitl for a line that had not played together all season…yet was their best in Game 4. And Philip Broberg, who a number of commentators said it would be unfair to bring in under these circumstances, proved them dead wrong with a Steady-Eddie 14:21 on the back end.

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The Nurse Nudge

All hell was raining down on Oilers D-man Darnell Nurse after Game 3. As a consistent supporter of Darnell, it really pained me to see it. But the eye test also informed me that Nurse was indeed not playing well. However, in the face of adversity, the head coach displayed confidence in his veteran and leader and marched him right back out there. And (as I mentioned previously) while the player deserves the majority of the credit, belief is a powerful tool in competitive sport. It appears Knoblauch and staff served a helping of that to Nurse, who responded in kind with his best performance of the post season.

As I said off the top: Nothing is done. Nothing is won. But by taking this Western Conference Final series to 2-2, the Edmonton Oilers have already exceeded what quite a number of critics predicted.

What remains to be seen is what other buttons Kris Knoblauch may push in an effort to navigate this team to the Stanley Cup Final.

Off Day Notes

-UPDATE: This does not look good for Dallas. Stars D-man Chris Tanev hobbled down the tunnel after blocking an Evander Kane shot in the Second period of last night’s game. He did not return. Post-game, Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said it was “fingers crossed” that Tanev would be available for Game 5. DeBoer: “He’ll see the doctor and we’ll take some pictures today, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed”. Tanev has averaged 23:25 of TOI per game this post-season. He was spotted in a walking boot at an airport this morning.

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-The Oilers boarded their flight back to Dallas late this (Thursday) morning time. They are expected back in Texas early afternoon.

-The National Hockey League has announced that The Stanley Cup Finals will begin June 8th.

Find me on Threads @kleavins, on Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, Mastodon at [email protected], and X @KurtLeavins. AI was not used in the composition of this article.

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