Oilers close to a Stanley Cup chance, going home needing one win over Stars to wrap up West final

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has never been this close to playing for a Stanley Cup since the Edmonton Oilers took him with the first overall draft pick in 2011.

It’s been even longer for the franchise that has won the Cup five times.

Edmonton was right in the middle of a span of 10 consecutive seasons without even making the playoffs when Nugent-Hopkins was drafted. And while the Oilers went into this season considered a Cup contender, they were 5-12-1 in November and already had made a coaching change.

Now the Oilers go home to Rogers Place on Sunday night, in their 100th game this season, with a chance to wrap up the Western Conference final in Game 6 against the top-seeded Dallas Stars.

“The crowd’s going to be buzzing for sure. It’s going to be loud, going to be exciting,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “For us, it’s about controlling the emotions, playing within ourselves and just trusting our game is good enough to get the job done.”

Nugent-Hopkins scored two power-play goals in a 3-1 win that put the Oilers ahead 3-2 in the Western Conference final. After falling behind 2-0 only 5 1/2 minutes into Game 4 at home, Edmonton scored eight unanswered goals — winning 5-2 to even the series, then going up 3-0 in Dallas on Friday night.

“Everybody talks about momentum in a series. It shifts game to game. We were able to put together two good games,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “We’ve put ourselves in an opportunity at home to win a big game, but that’s all we’ve done. There’s a lot of work to do.”

The Oilers won their first Cup title in 1984 and their fifth in 1990. Their only Stanley Cup Final since was 2006, when they lost in seven games before missing the playoffs each of the next 10 seasons.

Edmonton was 3-9-1 this season before coach Jay Woodcroft was fired and replaced by Kris Knoblauch. The Oilers then won 24 of 27 games, including a 16-game winning streak that was the longest in the NHL this season.

Dallas, 6-2 on the road this postseason, has consecutive losses in these playoffs for the first time since being in a 0-2 hole in the opening round against Las Vegas. The Stars won that series in seven games against last year’s Stanley Cup champion, then needed six games against 2022 champion Colorado, which had swept Edmonton in the West final on the way to that title.

“We’re a team that responds. We’re a resilient group. We have been all year,” Stars forward Tyler Seguin said.

Or as coach Pete DeBoer succinctly put it: “Well, we’re the best road team in the league, playoffs and regular season. We’ve got to win one road game.”

The Stars had only six shots on goal midway through Game 5. Over the past three games, they have been limited to four shots or fewer in three periods, and to only six shots twice.

“You’re at the end. … It’s not going to look pretty every night. You’re not going to come out firing shots and making plays and all kinds of room. And we’re doing the same to them,” DeBoer said after Game 5, the 100th of the season for Dallas. “They got a couple of of power-plays goals, they didn’t have a ton of great looks either. It’s muddy, tight hockey.”

If the Stars are unable to extend the series, their season will end in Game 6 of the West final for the second year in a row.

But if they can force a Game 7, it would be their third in two seasons under DeBoer. Dallas won the previous two Game 7s, including over Vegas in the first round, to make DeBoer 8-0 in such games with four different teams.

Before Nugent-Hopkins scored 18 seconds after a penalty in the first period Friday, and 16 seconds after another in the second period, the only special-teams goal for either team in the series had been a short-hander by Oilers forward Mattias Janmark in Game 4.

Edmonton has killed off 25 consecutive penalties over the past nine games. That includes all 11 against Dallas, five of those in the series opener.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both had an assist Friday night to reach 104 points in 66 playoff games. That pushed them past Paul Coffey, a Hall of Famer player and one of their coaches, for fifth on the franchise’s postseason scoring list.

“It’s remarkable. … It is harder to score in the NHL, especially nowadays,” said Knoblauch, noting even how much harder that is in tight-checking playoff games.

Nugent-Hopkins became the fourth player this postseason to reach 20 points. The others are all teammates of his: McDavid (29), Draisaitl (27) and Evan Bouchard (25).


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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