After a week on the bench, Stuart Skinner returned to the net to help the Edmonton Oilers force a Game 7 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 win in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

Game 7 will be played Monday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver as the winner will face the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals starting Thursday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

“I think by doing what we did tonight, I think we just showed a lot of desperation,” Skinner said on the ESPN broadcast. “Guys were blocking shots all over the place. I think both teams played great. You got to give a lot of credit to Vancouver, but you know Vancouver is going to come out really hard especially in their barn. I think we’re going to have to match that and bring some more.”

Averaging 3.80 goals per game during the playoffs while boasting a defensive structure that’s been among the strongest when it comes to limiting shots on goals and scoring chances is the formula the Oilers have used to come within a game of the Western Conference finals.

Figuring out how the Oilers could mesh their defensive structure with the most consistent version of Skinner, however, 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 down in the series with Skinner posting a 4.63 goals-against average and a .790 save percentage through Game 3.

Saturday saw the connection between the Oilers’ defensive structure and Skinner finally click.

The Oilers, who had limited teams to 24.91 scoring chances per 60, limited the Canucks to 18 scoring chances in 5-on-5 play. They also held the Canucks to just seven high-danger scoring chances and didn’t allow any in the second period.

Combining that defensive consistency with Skinner allowing only one goal on 15 shots added to an evening that saw the Oilers burst through for five goals. It was the third time this postseason and the first time in the second round that the Oilers have scored more than five goals.

Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who finished with three points, told the Sportsnet broadcast after the game that although Skinner didn’t face many shots he did “a great job” handling what McDavid considered to be dangerous chances.

“We never had a doubt,” McDavid said. “He’s a battler. He’s always been a battler. 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 what has been another mercurial season for the second-year goaltender.

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

Skinner was pulled over the final three games of the series, which led to an offseason filled with questions. Much 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.

In that time, Skinner solidified his place as the team’s No. 1 goaltender — which is what made his performances through the first three games so jarring. It led to him being pulled to start the third period in the Oilers’ Game 3 loss, with Knoblauch turning to Calvin Pickard in Games 4 and 5.

Pickard stopped 19 shots in the Oilers’ Game 4 victory while allowing three goals on 35 shots in their 3-2 loss in Game 5 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 a win away from the conference finals.

“I think obviously, to start off, I think Calvin was amazing when he got put in,” Skinner said. “Definitely got the job done and kept us in it. An unbelievable teammate. For me, I was able to get a little bit of rest and just work on my game and feel good about it again. I was able to come out and do what I had to do.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here