Gushin’ with goals: Oilers avoid sweep, win 8-1

NHL

Connor McDavid scored, “La Bamba” played in the Edmonton Oilers locker room, and the Stanley Cup Final is heading back to Florida after a statement win.

McDavid scored his first goal of the series as part of a four-point performance and Stuart Skinner was spectacular in making 32 saves as the Oilers routed the Florida Panthers 8-1 in Game 4 on Saturday night, chasing Sergei Bobrovsky and avoiding a sweep. Game 5 is Tuesday in Sunrise.

“It’s just one win,” McDavid said. “That’s all it is, whether you score eight or you score one. It’s just one win. We’ve got to go to Florida and do a job and drag them back to Alberta.”

The Panthers’ party will have to wait after a complete meltdown from a team with many players who have never been this close to hoisting the Cup. Bobrovsky was pulled five minutes into the second period after allowing five goals on 16 shots — more than he gave up in the first three games of the series combined.

“It had nothing to do with ‘Bob,'” Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “It was more of a wake-up call to everybody. We know he’s going to come back better than ever.”

Whether it was a last-gasp effort in front of a jacked-up home crowd hoping to see the start of a historic comeback or the breakthrough coach Kris Knoblauch has been foreshadowing, the Oilers were dominant in every facet of a game they needed to win.

It started with Mattias Janmark scoring 3:11 in on a 2-on-1 rush with Connor Brown. Janmark staked Edmonton to a two-goal lead less than five minutes later, setting up Adam Henrique for his second career goal in the Cup Final 12 years after the game winner for New Jersey that also prevented a sweep in the Final.

The odds remain long for the Oilers, given that the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to erase a 3-0 deficit at this stage of the playoffs and only four teams total have ever done it.

“Obviously that was a massive win, but we still know what the circumstances are,” said Dylan Holloway, who had two goals after not scoring since the second round. “We’re still down 3-1. The biggest thing for us is kind of just to forget that and use it, bottle it kind of, keep notice that [we] can do it but just move forward.”

The belief will certainly be tangible after breaking out offensively and building a lead rather than holding on to protect it, a quality they had in spades through the first three rounds to win the Western Conference. Florida cutting its deficit to one on Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal midway through the first period did not cause Edmonton to fold, with Skinner making the most important save of the night on Carter Verhaeghe on a 2-on-1 chance and Holloway answering before intermission.

“He was great,” McDavid said of Skinner. “You talk about goaltending and needing timely saves. He made some really timely saves. That was as big a save as you’re going to get.”

The offense just kept coming. McDavid, the reigning and three-time NHL MVP, beat Bobrovsky early in the second and minutes later set up Darnell Nurse for the defenseman’s first goal of the playoffs. That sent the goalie known as Bob to the bench amid derisive chants of “Sergei! Sergei!” as Anthony Stolarz came in for his postseason debut.

The Panthers, hours after family members arrived for a potential celebration more than 2,500 miles from home, took their frustrations out in a handful of post-whistle scrums. One of them gave the Oilers’ power play more target practice, and the unit that came into the final looking nearly automatic but started 0-for-12 in this series made them pay with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring on the 5-on-3 advantage.

“I’m not counting 5-on-3,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.

McDavid’s three assists Saturday gave him 32 total for this run, breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record from 1988 for the most in a single postseason. McDavid had more points Saturday night than in the first three games of the series combined, and he was the Oilers’ leading scorer while other top players were quiet.

“He just continues to impress everyone,” Knoblauch said. “It was a great performance.”

At even strength and on the power play, another adjustment by Knoblauch paid off for Edmonton’s rookie coach. He moved Nugent-Hopkins down to play with Leon Draisaitl, and each of the first two lines scored a big goal.

The outburst and a comfortable lead got fans going with everything from “We want seven!” to a singalong of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” They got it when Holloway scored with under six minutes left and some extra when Ryan McLeod added the exclamation point with the eighth goal with 3:19 on the clock.

Skinner also heard “STUUUU!” plenty as he had his best game of the final, denying the Panthers on several high-quality scoring chances as they tried to get back into it.

The confidence in the possibility of extending the series that was evident inside the home locker room extended around downtown Edmonton. A fresh sign reading “BELIEVE” was added to a window around the corner from Rogers Place on Saturday.

Inside, one fan held up a sign reading, “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” And now the Oilers have another chance to put pressure on the Panthers with the series returning to South Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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