Nurse battles back, quiets critics to lay foundation for Oilers win

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If anyone needed a comeback more than the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night, it was Darnell Nurse.

And, as it turned out, Nurse fighting back from his own rough start is what helped the Oilers fight back from theirs.

“A lot to be said about Darnell,” teammate Connor Brown said after Edmonton’s 5-2 win in Game 4. “Two tough bounces to start the game and then he settles in and plays probably his best game of the playoffs and leads us to a victory. That’s character right there.”

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Nurse was already taking heat (which is nothing new in this city) for lugging around a -12 rating through 15 playoff games. Even though many of those goals against had nothing to do with Nurse, he’s been a popular lightning rod since the playoffs began.

So when he dropped to -2 in the first five minutes Wednesday after somebody else made a mistake on the first goal and the second banked in on a one-in-a-hundred fluke, the dark cloud looked like it was settling in for the long haul.

But by game’s end he had totally redeemed himself, not that his teammates felt it was necessary. He finished the night with 12 hits, an assist on the first Edmonton goal and a shot block that sent Brown and Mattias Janmark the other way for the short-handed game winner.

A lot of stuff that doesn’t have a column in the spread sheets helped make the difference in the win.

“That’s what he does a lot of nights,” said Leon Draisaitl. “A lot of the things he does go unnoticed. He plays extremely hard. Maybe his confidence hasn’t been where we’ve all seen it be but those things happen, it’s normal, he’s a human being.

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“Tonight was a great step for him. He was outstanding tonight.”

Head coach Kris Knoblauch loves the way one of his team leaders pushed back in the face of adversity.

“I saw a lot of the good things,” said Knoblauch. “The start of the game couldn’t have been more unfortunate for him. He’s in position to defend a two-on-one and they score. A faceoff that we lose goes in off a bounce. That could have really set him back. That would have been really hard for a lot of guys to recover from after everything that’s being going on.

“But I thought it was his best game of series, maybe the playoffs. He was engaged, he was moving his feet. He’s one of the best in the league at covering space with his speed and his reach and finishing plays because of his strength. Those three attributes are what really set him apart from other defenceman and he was really good at those.”

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