EDMONTON — Evan Bouchard‘s ball shot on a power play with less than eight minutes left in regulation rattled off the Avalanche goalie Pavel Françouzis the right post.
Eleven seconds later, the Oilers defenseman got off the ice, muscular JT Compher at the Edmonton blue line after central Colorado left the box before sneaking through an innocent looking shot mike smith‘s pads.
The Oilers were close Saturday night — much closer than they’ve been in any series.
They too are now on the brink of extinction.
Compher scored 7-18 in the third period as Colorado defeated Edmonton 4-2 to comfortably take the NHL Western Conference finals 3-0 in a stranglehold.
“A game of inch…it showed there,” said the Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who opened the scoring after 38 seconds in the first in a foaming Rogers Place. “If that’s an inch on the other side for (Bouchard), it’s in.
“Not a great situation, but not over yet.”
Compher’s great individual performance for his fifth goal in the playoffs, all in his last four games, earned Colorado a victory from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals spot since winning its second title in 2001.
“I didn’t see it go in,” he said of the winner. “I thought it was (Smith’s) pads how he moves.
“It took a second.”
Valery Nikhushkinwith two, and Mikko Rantaneninto an empty net, had the other goals for Colorado. Devon Toews added two assists.
Francouz, who made his second straight start after scoring a 4-0 shutout in place of the injured on Thursday Darcy KumperHe stopped 27 shots.
Ryan McLeod provided the remainder of the offense for Edmonton, which will attempt to extend its first trip to the conference finals since 2006 on Monday.
“Every play counts,” Smith said after 39 saves. “The desperation has to be at an all-time high to win at this time of year. It comes from everyone in the room – just a little bit more.
“There’s not a lot of space out there, but you have to give everything you’ve got for a game.”
Only four NHL teams have ever managed to win a best-of-seven series from a 3-0 deficit. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to pull off the feat in the first round of the 2014 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
“We’re going to process the game,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We will make a few adjustments here and there.
“We come in with the (same) mindset that we’ve had all year, which is that we have to win a hockey game.”
According to the center, however, it wasn’t all good news for the Avalanche Nazem Kadri was injured in a hit from behind by the Edmonton winger Evander Kane just over a minute in the first period.
Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said his player will be out for at least the remainder of the series. Kane was given a five-minute penalty for boarding, which killed the Oilers but avoided game misconduct.
“The most dangerous game in hockey,” Bednar said. “He puts him in head first from behind, eight feet from the boards. I’ll leave it at that.”
Trailing 2-1 in the last half and with an effective season on the line, McLeod scored his third goal at 7:34 when he went into the Colorado zone and fired a long-range shot that fooled Francouz.
Edmonton got that power play in the third game, with the Colorado keeper making amends with a great McDavid chance before Bouchard hit the post to set the stage for Compher’s exploits.
Smith then made a big stop at Nichushkin to keep his team late, but the Oilers couldn’t find a way back when Rantanen put it into the empty net with his fourth.
“The margin of error is extremely low this time of year,” Kane said. “We see that firsthand.”
After the first 1-1 draw, both Francouz and Smith had to make big saves early in the second game before the Avalanche took their first lead.
After a pass win in the offensive zone, Toews’ shot hit Nathan MacKinnon forward and fell kindly in love with Nichushkin, who buried his second of the night and fifth of the postseason at 4:38.
Smith kept the Oilers within a period of time throughout the period, stopping Rantanen from the rush and Kal Makar out of the slot before denying Nichushkin with a desperation save.
Woodcroft, who was without a top six winger Kailer Yamamoto after being hit by the Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog Things shook up again heading into Saturday’s Game 2 and encouraged bruising Zack Kassian to his top line and with 11 forwards and seven defenders.
McDavid set Rogers Place on fire shortly after the opening game when he scored his ninth goal and 30th NHL-leading point in 15 playoff games, passing Francouz with the first shot of the night.
Edmonton’s captain tied Rick Middleton (15 contests in 1983) for the sixth fewest games in NHL history to reach the mark in a postseason, behind only Wayne Gretzky (11 in 1983, 12 in 1985, and 14 in 1988) and Mario Lemieux (13 in 1992) and Mark Messier (14 in 1988).
Kane delivered that dangerous punch from behind to Kadri shortly after to put the Oilers on their heels.
“I’m coming to the back check,” he said when asked for his interpretation of events. “Puck went wide, kind of dribbled into the corner. I know he likes to hit backwards. I was just trying to get up on him, that’s really all I did.
“Unfortunately, he crashed clumsily into the boards and injured his hand.”
Smith stopped all nine of Colorado’s shots for the resulting man advantage, including terrific saves from MacKinnon and Landeskog.
The Edmonton goaltender then made a huge double-pad stack from Landeskog in another penalty shootout as the Oilers were shorthanded seven times in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Avalanche didn’t have a consistently strong shot on goal during that period, but equalized at 3:48 when Nichushkin’s front pass went off the Oilers defenseman’s stick Darnell nurse and hit a surprised Smith shortside.
The home side nearly regained the lead towards the end of the third, but Francouz was able to corner part of a Kassian shot before clipping a loose puck from his on another night when Edmonton’s powerful attack failed to get off the ground Goal line clarified Colorado’s skill, speed and defensive tenacity.
“There are things we can do better,” Woodcroft said. “But I thought our competition, our try, was there. It came down to a game.
“They made an extra game and they found the win.”
The Oilers, on the other hand, need a Monday to keep their season alive.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 4, 2022.
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