Oilers Hall of Famer Fuhr on Skinner: ‘Sky's the limit’

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The greatest coach of them all, Scotty Bowman, used to say you don’t need great goaltending to win a Stanley Cup, good will do, but you can’t be meh.

No argument from one of the game’s greatest goalies Grant Fuhr, assessing the current goaltending battle between Stuart Skinner and Jake Oettinger in this Edmonton Oilers-Dallas Stars Western Conference Final.

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“In the playoffs, average doesn’t work,” said Fuhr.

Skinner, in the picture with Jordan Binnington and Adin Hill to be Canada’s starter for the 2026 Olympics in Italy, got the 3-2 double OT win over Oettinger in Game 1 with some splendid work, early and late. He silenced the loud pre-series narrative that the Stars stopper, in a pitched battle with Connor Hellebuyck, Jeremy Swayman and Thatcher Demko to be the USA’s Olympic goalie in 2026, was clearly better.

Fuhr saw a very relaxed Skinner in the opener, a goalie enjoying himself, stopping Evgeni Dadonov on a breakaway in the game’s first few minutes, then holding the fort when Dallas had that four-minute power play in the first OT after Connor McDavid high-sticked Matt Duchene and cut him in the mouth, drawing blood.

His play was critical to the Oilers winning Game 1.

“In the overtime, Stu was really good. That’s where it turns the game around. Obviously, you give up a goal there and you lose. This is all part of the learning for Stu. I think Stu’s figured out that he doesn’t have to be great but he has to be good. He has to be as good as Oettinger,” said Fuhr, now living in Palm Springs and working as a broadcaster for Coachella Valley, Seattle’s AHL farm club.

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“For sure when I played, I took playing against the other goalie as a personal challenge. That was how it was with me playing against Billy Smith for the first time. I wanted to match what he did because back then he was the best money goalie in the game,” said Fuhr.

“There are going to be games in the playoffs when you have to be great, but that’s a bonus. I do think your goalie has to steal a game somewhere over the course of the playoffs if you’re going to win a Stanley Cup. I think he’ll have to find one of those in the series against Dallas,” said Fuhr.

“I still think the sky’s the limit with Skinner. I think the Oilers can win a Cup with Stu. We haven’t seen the best of him. There’s always going to be critics if you don’t win a Cup … and the farther you go the bigger the microscope gets. But he just needs more playoff games to get comfortable,” said Fuhr.

Fuhr was clearly a cut above good as the Oilers’ lead dog in net but for his very average first playoff stumble against the Los Angeles Kings in 1982 when he lost 10-8, 6-5 (in the Miracle on Manchester) and 7-4 games and won two 3-2 games. Skinner was the same story in his first kick at the playoff can in 2023, beating Los Angeles in Round 1 in six games but then losing to Vegas in six. Skinner was pulled four times in 12 games.

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“Stu is young. He’s still learning. But it’s hard to learn in front of 18,000 people when every mistake you make is a red light, and the red light in the playoffs burns a lot brighter,” said Fuhr.

Fuhr agreed going away from Skinner for Games 4 and 5, with the Oilers down 2-1 in the Vancouver series and going to backup Calvin Pickard was likely a cold shower for the Oilers No. 1. But it was necessary. “Getting that time off with Pickard playing gave Skinner a chance to breathe a little bit. I don’t think it hurt him. Getting a game or two off gave Stu a chance to get some fresh air. One hundred per cent,” said Fuhr.

“I mean that (sitting) gets your undivided attention.”

“Tough for the coach making that move. If he’s wrong, he gets blamed. Both (Kris Knoblauch and Skinner) were in a tough spot,” said Fuhr, who believes playing goal in high-pressure situations is about 80 per cent mental and 20 per cent physical.

Since then, Skinner. who clearly has some mental resolve, has won three straight and given up five goals on 64 shots.

Game 1 against Vancouver, Skinner allowed five goals as the Canucks dug themselves out of a 4-1 hole, his lowlight. There was a goal by Elias Lindholm on the goal-line in the comeback, and Conor Garland’s winner when he faked a shot, slid to his right and slipped it through Skinner’s pads.

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“He was a bit anxious on that one, where you overcommit. It’s hard to be patient sometimes, especially in the playoffs. You’re trying to do too much,” said Fuhr.

Less is more, works for goalies like with defencemen making passes in their own zone, but Fuhr also loves goalies who compete.

“I like that Oettinger battles. He gets a little helter-skelter sometimes but he never gives up. It’s hard to beat a goalie like that because you take a goalie for granted and, all of sudden, he gets a leg or a stick on a shot. Like I thought Connor was just going to shovel it into the net (in first OT) but Oettinger found a way to get his stick on it,” said Fuhr.

Skinner isn’t as relaxed as Fuhr was at playoff time, where he lived on the golf course between games. But Fuhr likes Skinner’s demeanour. For the most part, he would rather see laid-back than fiery in a goalie.

“You want somebody more even-keeled. It’s a benefit to the players in front of you because if you don’t get flustered, they don’t get flustered,” said Fuhr.

And Skinner was very calm in Game 1, in a zone. Maybe not great, but very good. And that was just enough to get the W.

“Probably the last time a goalie had to be great every night was Dom (Hasek) when Buffalo got to the finals (1999 against Dallas),” said Fuhr.

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