Oilers ‘make it stressful,’ defeat Canucks in G7

NHL

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With a slightly fading voice and a ticket to the Western Conference finals in hand, Connor McDavid said what many were surely thinking about his team’s latest performance.

“We know how to make it stressful,” McDavid told Sportsnet.

McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers saw their three-goal lead come under threat late in the third period with the Vancouver Canucks scoring twice. Even with those goals, the Oilers held firm in a 3-2 win Monday in Game 7 of the second-round series.

Now, the Oilers will travel to Dallas where they will face the Stars in the conference final for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. For the Oilers, this will be their second trip to the conference final in the past three years, while the Stars are making a consecutive appearance.

Three second-period goals from Cody Ceci, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signaled the Oilers were 20 minutes away from the conference final.

Then, their lead was cut to 3-1 on a goal from Conor Garland with less than nine minutes left. Nearly four minutes later, Filip Hronek scored to cut the Oilers’ lead to 3-2 and give the Canucks new life with 4:36 remaining in the third.

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch immediately called a timeout after Hronek’s goal, a decision that McDavid praised for a few reasons.

“I thought it was a great timeout,” McDavid told reporters. “Even Darnell [Nurse], he was getting guys together and showing great leadership. That’s what he is, a great leader. He’s big in this room and showed great leadership there bringing everybody in. … It just settled everyone down and we were able to close it out.”

Another aspect of that reset was it appeared to have played a role in the Oilers preventing what could have been another comeback. It started in Game 1 when the Oilers lost a three-goal lead to lose 5-4, which began a trend of the Canucks winning their three games after previously trailing.

Except that didn’t happen Monday.

The Canucks not only struggled to set up in the Oilers’ zone following the timeout, but they failed to get a clean look on net. Dylan Holloway blocked Nikita Zadorov‘s shot while Leon Draisaitl used his stick to disrupt passing lanes before Hyman blocked Hronek’s final attempt with three second left.

“They’re a good team, you give them any life, they’re going to push,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I thought we did a great job of sticking with it, staying composed and not imploding and having each other’s backs.”

For the Canucks, losing Game 7 brings an end to a season that initially started with questions and ended up being one of the best campaigns in the club’s history.

The decision to fire Bruce Boudreau in January 2023 and hire Rick Tocchet saw the Canucks go through growing pains as part of a transition that saw them win 20 of the 36 games in which Tocchet was in charge last season.

Tocchet’s teachings carried over into the start of a 2023-24 season that saw the Canucks go from early season surprise to a team that could seriously contend for a Stanley Cup. After splitting the first two games of their quarterfinal series against the Predators, all but one of the Canucks’ remaining playoff games were decided by a goal.

“S—. I mean, I’ve lost games in junior that I still stay up at night and think about,” Garland said. “This will hurt for a long time.”

Being able to tie the game after falling behind early comes as the Canucks were without star winger Brock Boeser. The 27-year-old, who led the team in goals and points, was ruled out for Game 7 after it was reported Sunday that a blood-clotting issue was found in his leg.

Losing Boeser on the eve of one of the biggest games in franchise history came in a postseason that saw the Canucks play all but one game without star goaltender and Vezina Trophy finalist Thatcher Demko, who was injured after Game 1.

As was the case with Demko, the Canucks said after the game they didn’t see losing Boeser as an excuse for why they lost.

“I don’t feel sorry for us. I feel sorry for Brock,” J.T. Miller said. “He’s worked his ass off all year long and had a career year. With how far he’s come as a player since I’ve been here. Being out there, blocking shots with the goalie pulled. He’s that type of player. For him not to be out there today must suck for him and I feel for him. It’s not about us right now. It’s about being there for him.”

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