July 24, 2024

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Stuart Skinner ‘fantastic’ in return for Oilers Force 7

Stuart Skinner ‘fantastic’ in return for Oilers Force 7

After a week on the bench, Stuart Skinner returned to the net to help the Edmonton Oilers force a seventh game in their second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.

Last appearing in Game 3 after struggling to start the series, Skinner made 14 saves in the Oilers’ 5-1 Game 6 win at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

Game 7 will be held Monday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, with the winner facing the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Finals beginning Thursday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

“I think with what we did tonight, I think we showed a lot of desperation,” Skinner told ESPN. “Guys were blocking shots everywhere. I thought both teams played great. You have to give a lot of credit to Vancouver, but you know Vancouver is going to come out strong especially in their bullpen. I think we’re going to have to match that and bring more.”

He averaged 3.80 goals per game during the playoffs while featuring a defensive structure that was among the strongest when it came to limiting shots on goals and scoring opportunities, a formula the Oilers used to reach the Western Conference Finals.

However, figuring out how the Oilers could mesh their defensive structure with the more consistent version of Skinner was one of those challenges they were trying to solve in a series in which the first five games were decided by a goal.

Especially when the Oilers limited the Canucks to 19.3 shots per game in the first three games only to find themselves at the bottom of the series as Skinner posted a 4.63 goals-against average and a .790 save percentage during Game 3.

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Saturday saw the relationship between the Oilers’ defensive structure and Skinner finally come together.

The Oilers, who had limited scoring chances to 24.91 chances per 60, limited the Canucks to 18 scoring chances in 5-on-5 play. They also held seven high-danger scoring chances to the Canucks and did not allow any in the second half.

Combining that defensive consistency with Skinner allowing just one goal on 15 shots added up to an evening that saw the Oilers take a five-goal lead. This was the third time in the postseason and first time in the second round that the Oilers scored more than five goals.

Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who finished with three points, told Sportsnet after the game that although Skinner did not face many shots, he did a “great job” of taking what McDavid saw as dangerous opportunities.

“We had no doubt,” McDavid said. “He’s a fighter. He’s always been a fighter. Our team always responds and he’s no different. He responded great and gave us a great performance.”

His role in the Oilers’ Game 6 win is the latest development in another mercurial season for the second-year goaltender.

A year ago, Skinner was a rookie and emerged as the No. 1 goalie for his hometown team. He helped the Oilers reach the second round only to be eliminated in six games by the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.

Skinner was pulled for the final three games of the series, leading to an offseason full of questions. Like the Oilers themselves, Skinner had a difficult start to the season but found consistency once the club fired coach Jay Woodcroft and hired Kris Knoblauch.

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In that time, Skinner had cemented his place as the team’s first-choice goalkeeper, which made his performances over the first three games so inconsistent. This led to him being pulled to start the third period in the Oilers’ Game 3 loss, with Knoblauch turning to Calvin Pickard for Games 4 and 5.

Pickard stopped 19 shots in the Oilers’ Game 4 win while allowing three goals on 35 shots in their 3-2 Game 5 loss to the Canucks.

Knoblauch said after Game 3 that Skinner would return to the lineup at some point, and that point was Saturday.

Now he and the Oilers are just one win away from the conference finals.

“I think obviously, initially, I thought Calvin was great when he was drafted,” Skinner said. “She definitely got the job done and kept us at it. Unbelievable teammate. For me, I was able to take a little bit of a break and work on my game and feel good about it again. I was able to go out and do my job.” “What I should have done.”