How Oilers grinded out win to clinch Stanley Cup Final berth: 5 takeaways

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EDMONTON — There was a collective exhale mixed with outright euphoria as the final buzzer sounded.

On one hand, the Edmonton Oilers were soundly outplayed by the Dallas Stars on Sunday night. The Western Conference’s top seed, with their season on the line, certainly wasn’t rolling over and carried most of the play.

But the Oilers, who scored the first two goals of the game, managed to survive the onslaught as a Jason Robertson shot went wide with seconds left on the clock. That’s where the pandemonium comes in.

The Oilers edged the Stars 2-1 in Game 6 of the conference final to book their ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final since the underdog run of 2006.

Nine years into the Connor McDavid era, the thing that just had to happen, finally — finally — did. The Oilers have just four more wins to go to earn the big trophy.

Skinner was great

The Oilers don’t win this game without Stuart Skinner. Full stop. He was their best player.

The ice became more and more tilted in Dallas’ favor as the game progressed, but the Oilers goalie was up to the challenge nearly every time there was a shot that came his way. This might have been his best performance of the playoffs, which couldn’t have come at a better time since the Stars dominated at five-on-five.

Skinner’s two best saves came in the third period with the result hanging in the balance. He stopped Robertson point blank with his blocker and kicked on his right pad on Logan Stankoven in the slot.

Though he allowed a tap-in goal to Mason Marchment, Skinner still turned aside 34 pucks as his Oilers were outshot 35-10.

The Stars were supposed to have the goaltending advantage in this series, but Skinner outdueled counterpart Jake Oettinger — especially over the last three games. Skinner surrendered just four goals over the final three contests, all victories by Edmonton. He came through when it mattered most.

McDavid magic

McDavid can skate unlike anyone else in NHL history. He thinks the game two steps ahead. His play with the puck is jaw-droppingly good. There’s a reason — or a few — that he’s regarded as the best player going today. McDavid’s sublime talents were on display early in Game 6.

The Oilers captain scored the most electrifying goal of the 2024 playoffs and the prettiest one of his postseason career just 4:17 into the game.

With the Oilers on a power play, McDavid took a cross-ice pass from Leon Draisaitl before deftly sidestepping Sam Steel. From there, it was showtime. He caught Miro Heiskanen — a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman — leaning and toe-dragged around him like he was a beer-leaguer. He then chipped a backhander over Oettinger for a few extra style points.

McDavid was just as noticeable on the next Oilers man advantage. He stripped Chris Tanev in the corner to recover a puck and then made a beautiful pass to set up Zach Hyman for his 14th goal of the playoffs later in the shift.

McDavid was the offensive difference-maker in this game. That goes for the series, too. McDavid, who opened the series with a double-overtime goal in Game 1, had three goals and 10 points in the six games. He’s now the leading scorer of the playoffs with 31 points.

Oilers special teams superiority

There’s no question where this series was won. The Oilers dominated the special teams battle, something that was especially apparent in Game 6.

The Oilers scored on their first two power plays — the magnificent McDavid effort and the Hyman snipe. Those two goals, when added to the pair they scored on three opportunities in Game 5, meant the Oilers cashed in on four of their final five chances. That put them at 4-for-11 over the six contests.

On the other side, they killed off each of the Stars’ three man advantages on Sunday — including one in the third period that was highlighted by the blocker save by Skinner on Robertson and a huge shot block by Darnell Nurse. The Oilers thwarted all 14 power play chances the Stars had in the matchup. Oh, and they scored a short-handed goal courtesy of Mattias Janmark in Game 4.

The Oilers haven’t allowed a power-play goal since Game 3 of the Vancouver series, a span of 10 games and 28 chances. Pretty, pretty good.

What went wrong for the Stars?

The Stars were the third highest scoring team in the league during the regular season, averaging 3.59 goals per game — right up there with the high-octane Avalanche and Maple Leafs. But the offense dried up almost completely late in this series. After scoring five goals in the second and third periods of Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, Dallas managed just four goals over the final three games, including two over the final six periods.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. The power play, which was the sixth-best in the league this season, went an almost unfathomable 0-for-14 in the conference final, often looking overwhelmed by the high-pressure Oilers penalty kill. The Stars’ penalty-kill, eighth-best in the league, held its own against the mighty Oilers power play for the first four games, but got annihilated in Games 5 and 6, giving up four goals on five opportunities in a four-period span that ultimately decided the series.

And other than Tyler Seguin’s two-goal Game 1 and Robertson’s Game 3 hat trick, the Stars got virtually no offense from its cadre of scoring forwards. Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Roope Hintz, Matt Duchene and Stankoven combined for just two goals in the series. Skinner was supposedly the weak link in this matchup, but he ended up being a difference-maker in net for Edmonton, particularly in Games 5 and 6.

And while it’s tough to blame Oettinger for Edmonton’s power-play goals, the fact is, he was mostly ordinary in the last three games, all Oilers wins. After posting a .938 save percentage in the first three games, he gave up nine goals on 64 shots in the last three, for an .859 SV%.

No top gun

In an effort to goose his offense, Stars coach Pete DeBoer took a chance and put rookie Mavrik Bourque into the lineup. Bourque, the AHL’s leading scorer and MVP this season, had just one regular-season NHL game under his belt, but was eager for the opportunity, having joined the team as an extra during the Colorado series after the Texas Stars’ postseason run ended. He started the game centering a line with Steel and Pavelski, and stayed on the fourth line when DeBoer shook things up in the second period, swapping Pavelski and Evgenii Dadonov.

But Bourque was a non-factor in the game, playing just 7:56, by far a team-low among forwards.

(Photo of Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

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