Player grades: Oilers turn tables on Stars, bounce back from 0-2 deficit to win going away

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Stars 2, Oilers 5

As pivotal games go, this one could hardly have gotten off to a worse start. Trailing 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals, the Edmonton Oilers yielded a goal in the game’s first minute on a bad pinch by a defenceman playing an unfamiliar position. They allowed a second not five minutes later when an innocuous point shot off a faceoff took the unfriendliest of bounces off another defender’s backside and into the net. The game wasn’t six minutes old, the Oilers were down 0-2 and they hadn’t so much as generated a shot on goal.

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There was nowhere to go but up from there, but it was hard to guess how far “up” things would go. The Oilers fought back to dominate the last half of the first period to tie the score 2-2, then broke the game open with a shorthanded goal quickly followed by a another by the post-PK group. Best of all, they locked things down defensively, not allowing another goal over the last 54 minutes. An empty netter made the final margin 5-2 Edmonton.

The Oilers were full value for the win, by eye and by stat. They outshot Dallas 29-22 on the night, including a whopping 12-1 margin over the last 8 minutes of the first, with the lone Stars shot in that span coming from 171 feet. By expected goals it was 3.7 for Edmonton, 1.8 for Dallas. And by our own assessment at the Cult of Hockey, the home side held a 14-10 edge in Grade A Shots, including a resounding 7-3 in the subset of 5 alarm shots (running count). The Oil also took charge of the physical side of the game, landing 47 hits compared to 23 the other way.

Player grades

Cult of Hockey game grades player grades

#2 Evan Bouchard, 8. Charged the net to slam home a McDavid rebound for his sixth goal of the playoffs to tie the score 2-2 late in the first. Handled the puck a ton and moved it with authority. Excellent shot shares. Got his head bounced off the glass seconds before Ekholm’s empty netter, but appeared to be OK. +2 on the night, upping his league-leading total to +15 in just 16 playoff games, 5 clear of second-place Gustav Forsling, the regular season leader in this category. Contributions to Grade A Shots (GAS): Even Strength +2/-1; Special Teams 0.

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#5 Cody Ceci, 6. Played 15 solid minutes at even strength, primarily with a new partner in Broberg. Kept a clean sheet defensively, in part because the Oilers controlled play on his/their watch (70% Corsi at 5v5). Also delivered 2:11 on the penalty kill. GAS: ES +0/-0; ST 0.

#10 Derek Ryan, 5. The only Oiler in single digits for minutes with just 7:15. Lost a faceoff on the second Stars goal. Played just 14 seconds on his specialty, the penalty kill, in part because he was himself in the box for one of the two. Did however, contribute a key defensive play while on that unit. 2 hits, 2 takeaways. GAS: ES +0/-1; ST 0.

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#13 Mattias Janmark, 8. Burned his old team with a shorthanded goal that broke the 2-2 tie and stood up as the game winner. Splendid defensively on the PK as well, including a terrific steal with Hyman in the box in the third. Excellent down the stretch, with his line spending plenty of time cycling in the offensive zone. Reliable player, consistently makes the safe play with the puck, offence a very welcome bonus. Named first star in the building. GAS: ES +0/-0; ST +1/-0. 

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#14 Mattias Ekholm, 8. Kind of like the team, he was burned for a pair of Grade A’s early but none after that, subsequently contributing to 5 at the other end. Among them, a won battle in the build-up to Bouchard’s 2-2 goal, and a terrific neutral zone pinch and pass that set the stage for the 4-2. No points to show for either of those, but he was rewarded eventually, scoring the empty net goal with a seeing eye clearing shot from 176 feet, the third straight game a left d-man scored an empty netter from beyond centre with 2 minutes left. At least it was an Oiler this time. GAS: ES +5/-2; ST 0.

#18 Zach Hyman, 7. His won battle along the side boards in the neutral zone helped enable the Bouchard tally, even as he didn’t touch the puck. Earned a primary assist on the 4-2 as the middle man in a give-and-go with Draisaitl. Robbed by Jake Oettinger on his best chance, a second period breakaway. As is so often the case, he led the forwards in shots on goal, with 5, and in shot attempts, with 10. Also had 5 hits. Was fortunate not to get called for a heavy hit along the boards in the third period, but got 2 minutes for ticky-tack about 3 minutes later to make up for it. Fortunately his teammates had his back and killed it off. GAS: ES +6/-0; ST 0.

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#19 Adam Henrique, 7. Delivered 14 minutes of rock-solid play, with 2 shots, 4 hits, takeaway and a splendid 12/16=75% on the faceoff dot. His smarts are apparent in all three zones. GAS: ES +0/-0; ST 0.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 8. Already the target of widespread criticism, his night couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. His first shift lasted 17 seconds and ended with the puck in Edmonton’s net. Minutes later he was boxing out an opponent when a point shot hit him on the rear end and caromed past Skinner for the 2-0. But things turned around for the better thereafter. Earned an assist on the 2-1 by joining the rush to take Draisaitl’s pass and feed it to Perry, then create a disturbance in front as McLeod found and cashed the rebound. No point to show for it but a key contribution on Janmark’s shorthanded winner with a hard charge up the middle of the ice. His larger contribution on the night was his fearsome physical presence, landing a whopping 12 hits including several punishing darts as he took out his frustrations on the Stars. Also blocked 3 shots.  GAS: ES +2/-2; ST +1/-0. 

#27 Brett Kulak, 6. The Oilers changed up their defence to include 4 lefties and just 2 righties, and it was Kulak who got tagged to make the switch to the right side. Got burned early in his very first shift with an aggressive pinch that let Wyatt Johnston loose behind him. Fairly steady the rest of the way and contributed a couple of key defensive stops. GAS: ES +1/-1; ST 0.

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#28 Connor Brown, 8. Ran his point streak to 3 games (1 goal, 2 primary assists). His key contribution came on the penalty kill, when he jumped on a deflected puck in his own zone, recognized the opportunity and raced up ice, gained the zone and fed Janmark with a splendid cross-ice pass. His disruptive forecheck at the tail end of that powerplay contributed to the Dallas turnover that was quickly converted by other Oilers into the 4-2. Led all forwards with 2:02 ice time on the 2-for-2 PK unit. Drew the lone Dallas penalty of the night. GAS: ES +0/-0; ST +1/-0.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 8. Centred the Redemption Line between McLeod and Perry, with the latter two returning to action from a stint in the press box and Leon himself coming off a couple of so-so games. Anything but so-so in this one, starting with a contribution (though no assist) on the McLeod goal with a fine stretch pass. Skated with purpose, distributed the puck well and fired 3 excellent shots on net. The best of those found twine to make it 4-2 late in the second and establish Edmonton as firmly in control. 3 shots, 2 hits, 1 block and 10/17=59% on the dot. On the receiving end of a questionable hit from Ryan Suter but kept his composure and his focus on the task at hand. GAS: ES +3/-2; ST 0.

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#55 Dylan Holloway, 6. Not much happening offensively with 0 shot attempts or Grade A contribtuions, but gave up nothing the other way. 5 hits and 2 more shot blocks. GAS: ES +0/-0; ST 0.

#71 Ryan McLeod, 7. Returned to the line-up after a game in the press box. Found himself playing left wing with Draisaitl and Perry. Scored a huge goal, his first point of the playoffs, when he collected Perry’s rebound and calmly deposited it upstairs to get the Oilers back in the game at 2-1 down. Barely missed a second chance from the slot off another Perry feed. Set up Draisaitl with a fine pass. Dallas mustered just 2 shots on net during his nearly 15 minutes at even strength, Edmonton 7. GAS: ES +2/-1; ST 0.

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#74 Stuart Skinner, 7. Beaten early by a terrific snipe on an odd-man rush and a seeing-eye deflection off a teammate, but responded to that adversity by pitching a shutout the rest of the way. Made a mammoth stop off Tyler Seguin on the doorstep that threatened to make it 3-0. Rock steady thereafter. 22 shots, 20 saves, .909 save percentage.

#86 Philip Broberg, 6. The youthful defender was airlifted into a must-win playoff game and got the job done. Flashed his “good stick” a number of times, notably one which swept a dangerous pass away from goal poacher Evgeni Dadonov and started a counterattack that produced a dangerous McDavid drive. Lost a coupleofo strength battles, but won more than a couple of reach battles. GAS: ES +1/-2; ST 0.

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#90 Corey Perry, 7. Finally returned to the line-up after a 5 game absence and delivered right away, earning an assist on Edmonton’s first goal. Invovled in a couple of other nice offensive sequences. Also chipped in defensively with a pair of important interceptions. GAS: ES +2/-0; ST 0.

#91 Evander Kane, 5. Quiet night with just 1 shot, 3 hits, though he didn’t give up much. Fired a heavy wrist shot that Chris Tanev blocked but which forced the Stars veteran out of the game. GAS: +0/-0; ST 0.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. Made a wonderful pass to McDavid from a compromised body position that earned him a secondary assist on Bouchard’s 2-2 goal. Played 1:44 on the PK. GAS: ES +3/-1; ST +1/-0. 

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#97 Connor McDavid, 8. Played a strong 2-way game, chipping in an assist in each period to move into the playoff scoring lead with 28 points. Set up Bouchard’s goal by using Oettinger’s pad as a trampoline. Made a difficult play in the neutral zone to set up the Draisaitl-Hyman 2-on-1 on the 4-2. Co-led the Oilers with 5 shots. His best effort went behind Oettinger but hit the netminder’s dropped stick just in front of the goal line. Played a disciplined, mature game down the stretch, minimizing risks, getting the puck to good places and not overextending his shifts going for an extra goal which, it turned out, the Oilers didn’t need. GAS: ES +4/-1; ST +1/-0.

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