Success late in Oilers playoff series is sweet music for Stuart Skinner

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If you noticed Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Stuart Skinner the other night, you could see him bopping up and down to the music playing at Amerant Arena during stoppages in play.

Skinner, who is now 9-0 in games 4 to 7 during this two-month Oilers playoff run, is Mr. Chill as goalies go, and with Game 6 Friday in what promises to be a Rogers Place madhouse, he’ll probably need a timeout to give his psyche a breather.

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“I don’t have a (particular) song in my head. I used to do that when I was a lot younger, though … it’s kind of funny but I would sing a song while I was playing,” he said.

“Now when I hear a tune (in the rink) it’s easy to go along with it. Sometimes you’ll see me bopping my head. Again, it’s just enjoying where you are in the moment, having some fun with it keeps it a little bit loose for myself. Everyone’s different,” said Skinner.

Maybe in the way they stop pucks, but not in soothing the nerves.

“Yes, goalies need a mental break, that’s what makes the position tough,” said Oilers 1990 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Bill Ranford. “I had a song playing in my head to relax me, whatever came into my head. What song?”

“I don’t remember. It was 30-plus years ago.”

In 1990, Phil Collins’s “Another Day in Paradise” was pretty big.

That song would fit Ranford, right, as the Oilers rolled to their fifth Stanley Cup.

Music playlists were part of SportsNet commentator Kelly Hrudey’s repertoire, too, when he played in Los Angeles and with New York Islanders.

“For sure I had songs in my head. It’s a long game,” he said.

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Right about now, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ could be Skinner’s anthem. He’s the guy who told people when the Panthers were rolling early on, “If anybody can come back, it’s the Oil.” And now it’s 3-2, and Skinner is getting stronger as series goes along. Like he did late in the Vancouver matchup, like he did in the last three games against Dallas, like he’s been in the last two wins against Florida, when he’s outplayed Sergei Bobrovsky after Bob’s brilliant start to the final.

Bobrovsky, who had one hand on the playoff MVP trophy after the first three games, has come down to earth, giving up 11 goals over the last 46 Oilers shots he faced, in large part because of all the Oilers rush chances where he’s out on an island by himself.

There is no deep dive from Skinner as to why he’s better late in series, with his 1.57 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in games 4 to 7. Maybe he gets a better book on the shooters. It’s certainly the opposite of pitchers in the playoffs, where they routinely take them out after two times through the batting order because analytics say the hitters have figured out the guy on the mound.

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“It’s kind of hard to point to one thing,” he said. “I would love to give you an answer where it works, very simple, and the key to success. I think it’s a byproduct of the experience that I’ve gone through and what I do with that. It’s also a byproduct of how my team plays in front of me. The guys have been nothing but supportive, playing well at both ends of the ice.”

“To be honest, it’s what you do when things kind of come your way, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad, it’s all about how you respond to that. For myself, it’s just trying to give this team a chance to win every night.”

In Game 5 in Florida, he made a wonderful glove save on Aaron Ekblad early, reading the play as the defenceman snuck into the high slot. And then late in the game, he did what he’s done so many times in the playoffs. He threw out his blocker in heavy traffic, and once again, stopped Ekblad’s effort to tie it 4-4. He made the same play against Quinn Hughes on a late-period Vancouver power play with bodies in front of him.

While Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch has seen Connor McDavid put on a magic show the last two games with his eight points, he says it’s not just 97 stepping up. It’s also Skinner and the other leaders.

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“It starts with your best players. If your best players are going and playing well, everyone else follows. If you’re in the dressing room and you look around the room and you’re looking across at your leaders and you’re not sure if they’re ready to play, whether they’re nervous or struggling or whatever, it puts in a lot of doubt in your team,” said Knoblauch.

“But when you look across and you see Stuart Skinner playing as well as he is, Connor McDavid putting up back-to-back four-point games, everyone else is like, ‘OK, they’ve got it. They’re our best players, and they’re ready to play. All right, we’re going to be OK.’ It just gives confidence throughout the dressing room,” he said.

Skinner struggled last spring in the playoffs, pulled four times in his first kick at the playoff can. And he took a seat as backup Calvin Pickard played games 4 and 5 in the Vancouver series this year. But, since then, he’s 8-5 and while he can leave his house and doesn’t risk getting mobbed like McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, it’s not like he’s out in the yard cutting his grass as fans rush by for a selfie.

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“I’m letting my wife do the shopping right now and she’s been wonderful. I appreciate that,” said Skinner, deep into the local-boy-makes-good story.

“It’s just amazing for the city, being in this position like this. Every time you drive around all you see are Edmonton flags. Especially when it comes around game time, you hear the honks, you hear people getting loud and screaming, ‘Go Oilers.’ It’s very enjoyable in the city. It’s really hard to get to a situation like this, and being able to embrace this moment that you’ve worked so hard for, is really all you can do,” he said.

This ‘n that: Oilers winger Evander Kane (sports hernia) practised Thursday after being a scratch for the last three games, but he was on a fifth line with Sam Carrick and Sam Gagner, so it’s pretty iffy that he’ll play Game 6 … The Panthers are making one lineup change. Kyle Okposo is out and the disturber Nick Cousins is in on the fourth line.

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