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Goalie Stuart Skinner goes from pulled to praised as Oilers seek 2-0 lead over Stars

Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner has gone from getting pulled to being praised again this postseason.

“He’s a huge part of this team. Ever since he let ‘Picks’ get in there for two games against Vancouver he’s come back and he’s been on fire,” Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm said.

“He’s a calm presence out there and makes himself big.”

Add in a couple of posts and a penalty kill unit that suddenly is giving up absolutely nothing, and the Oilers find themselves with a chance to do more than just split the first two games of the Western Conference final on the road against top-seeded Dallas.

Game 2 is Saturday night.

Skinner was watching after a goalie switch midway through the second round. He got pulled in the third period of Game 3 against the Canucks after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

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Calvin Pickard took over, then won Game 4 and had 32 saves in a Game 5 loss before Skinner was back in net.

In three games since, including back-to-back games facing elimination against Vancouver, Skinner is 3-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

Edmonton opened the West final with a 3-2 double-overtime win when Skinner had nine of his 31 saves after regulation. He pushed away late shots by Tyler Seguin, who scored both Dallas goals, and Jason Robertson, who also hit both posts during an extended power play in that first overtime.

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“He was everything that we needed,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said.

McDavid scored the game-winning goal 32 seconds into the second overtime, but only had that chance because his teammates killed off a four-minute penalty after his double-minor penalty for a high stick only seconds into the first extra period.

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The Oilers killed off five penalties against Dallas, extending their streak to 20 in a row without giving up a power-play goal. They are an NHL-best 92.5% (37 of 40) on the PK this postseason, 12 of 12 in their five-game series against the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round, after ranking right in the middle of the pack during the regular season.

“Our work ethic has gone up, our structure and detail have gone up, and it has to at this time of year,” Oilers forward Derek Ryan said.

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“Usually, your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and (Skinner) has done a great job of that, and the guys up front have done a good job as well.”

Opting in

Joe Pavelski has played in 1,332 regular-season games and 196 playoff games over 16 NHL seasons. His 74 playoff goals are the most among active players and the most ever by a U.S.-born player.

But the 39-year-old Stars forward is still in pursuit of his first Stanley Cup and was on the ice Friday for their optional practice.

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, second from left, celebrates with teammates after they beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 in double overtime in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff finals, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Dallas. Tony Gutierrez / The Associated Press

“I believe I have probably more to give. There’s certain areas of my game that have been fine and good, and certain areas that I need to improve,” Pavelski said. “It’s about finding it and wanting it. This a great time of the season to be playing. It’s not all about rest as much, as there are still times where you’ve got to push and get some reps in. It’s just probably wanting more out there. You know, we all do.”

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Pavelski has only one goal and three assists in 14 games this postseason.

Hintz and Henrique

Both teams could get key offensive players back as early as Game 2 on Saturday night.

Oilers forward Adam Henrique has missed the past six games, and seven of the eight, since spraining his ankle in the first-round clincher against Los Angeles on May 1.

“We have a decision to make. He’s very close,” coach Kris Knoblauch said Friday. “More time off is only going to make him 100% right now. He’s probably 98% … he could come in the lineup. Now we have to make a decision on what’s best for our team, and he hasn’t played for a while. But a player like Adam would be a huge boost to our team. Yeah, that’s something we have to decide.”

Stars front-line center Roope Hintz has missed three games with an upper-body injury.

“Skating (today) and possible for tomorrow.” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said.

Some impressive numbers

Along with the game-winning goal Thursday night, McDavid got his 20th assist this postseason. It is his second time with 20 helpers in 13 or fewer games to start a postseason.

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Wayne Gretzky is the only other player in NHL history to do that multiple times.

Leon Draisaitl’s playoff-opening 13-game scoring streak (nine goals, 16 assists) makes him only the fifth player with one that long.

With a point for the Oilers on Saturday night, he would match Mark Messier’s franchise-record scoring streak set in their first 14 games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup in 1988.

&© 2024 The Associated Press

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