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Pickard comes through for Oilers with key saves vs. Canucks

Sometimes third-stringers are the answer.

It worked for the Vancouver Canucks over the first three games of their second-round National Hockey League playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers, with Arturs Silovs stopping plenty of pucks — 84 of them — in those matches.

It worked for the Oilers, too, in Tuesday’s Game 4, which saw Calvin Pickard notch a victory in his first career NHL post-season start, stopping 19 Canucks shots for a 3-2 win to tie the series at two games each.

He made stops at key times, including a circus stop with the Oilers killing a penalty early in the first period, stopping Canucks forward Conor Garland while enduring a mob of traffic in front.

It was late in the game when his saves mattered most, of course, with the Canucks coming to life following their first goal of the game courtesy Garland 6:54 into the third period.

With the Canucks pressing and sustaining pressure, keeping the puck in the Oilers’ zone for a 90-second sequence midway through the final frame, Pickard kept their attack at bay amid a pair of shots and three missed chances.

The Canucks did solve Pickard again on a late goal by Dakota Joshua amid plenty of player traffic in front of the net and Silovs pulled for an extra attacker, but Evan Bouchard’s winner gave the 32-year-old netminder the win.

Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch decided to start Pickard in the wake of the Oilers’ 4-3 loss Sunday in Game 3 of the series, saying after it the team needed “more saves.”

Enter Pickard, in for Stuart Skinner, the Oilers’ usual starter.

“He looked like a guy who’s played 100 playoff games: Composed, solid, seeing the puck really well,” Knoblauch told reporters following Tuesday’s game.

“We have a lot of confidence in him and he came up big (on Tuesday).”

The 32-year-old Pickard started the season third on the team’s goaltending depth chart behind Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell.

He was playing in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors, the Oilers’ minor-league affiliate, when the Oilers called him up in early November to replace Campbell as Skinner’s backup after Campbell cleared waivers.

The Moncton, N.B., native has been in the NHL with the Oilers ever since, appearing in 23 games and posting a 12-7-1 record, a 2.45 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

The journeyman, who signed with the Oilers in 2022 and spent last season with the Condors, was a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2010 and made his NHL debut with them in 2014-15. Since then, he’s played 139 regular-season games — 50 of them as Colorado’s starting goalie in 2016-17 — for six different teams.

Pickard told reporters after Tuesday’s win he “was trying to channel” his emotions given the importance of the game.

“It felt like another game,” he said.

“Every game in the NHL is high pressure. I didn’t want to let the pressure of a playoff game override what I needed to do. I felt comfortable right from the get-go.”

Skinner played 59 games in the regular season, putting up a record of 36-16-5, a .905 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA.

He had emerged last season as the team’s starter after inconsistent play from Campbell, a free-agency addition in 2022 who many believed at the time would carry the load in net.

Skinner faltered during last season’s playoffs, however, finishing with a record of 5-6, a 3.68 goals-against average and a .883 save percentage.

In these playoffs, the 25-year-old has a save percentage of .877 in eight games. Against the Canucks, that figure drops to .793.

“I’ve got some work to do here to get back at it and learn from the mistakes that I’ve been making,” Skinner said Monday.

And while Knoblauch wouldn’t reveal who would start in goal for the Oilers for Thursday’s Game 5 in Vancouver, he said Pickard’s “body of work (Tuesday) allows us to have a lot of confidence in him if we did do that.” 

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