Skip to content

4 keys to victory as Canucks-Oilers goes down to the wire

Curtis Comeau / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers are deadlocked at two wins apiece. The goal count in the dramatic series is 14-14. The Round 2 matchup's now a best-of-three, and the squad that ticks these boxes in Game 5 and beyond will have the greater chance to advance.

Score by committee

Curtis Comeau / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

The Oilers' reliance on six skaters has gotten extreme. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, and Mattias Ekholm are all playing more than 23 minutes a night. This quintet partnered with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to score the bulk of Edmonton's goals (13) and points (35 of 40) in the series.

The Oilers' fifth through 12th forwards have three assists. Six passengers - Ryan McLeod, Warren Foegele, Dylan Holloway, Mattias Janmark, Corey Perry, and Connor Brown - went pointless through Game 4 while firing fewer shots on net together (14) than Hyman, Bouchard, and Draisaitl did individually. The nonexistence of help for Edmonton's stars has the potential to ruin the playoff run.

Vancouver's first and third lines - J.T. Miller between Brock Boeser and Pius Suter, Elias Lindholm between Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua - combine strong forechecking, playmaking, and sharpshooting. Defensemen notched points on 13 Canucks goals by moving the puck through the neutral zone, funnelling it into scoring areas, or, in Nikita Zadorov's case, joining the rush to bury it themselves.

Both teams are icing replacement netminders - Vancouver due to injury, Edmonton because of performance. Can Elias Pettersson, who's been held to one power-play tally, test Oilers journeyman Calvin Pickard? Will Foegele or Evander Kane, who were both 20-goal scorers, trouble rookie marvel Arturs Silovs?

Exploit secondary D pairs

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images

Edmonton's up 7-2 in goals and has generated 75% of dangerous chances during Bouchard and Ekholm's shared shifts, per Natural Stat Trick. Vancouver's Quinn Hughes-Filip Hronek duo hasn't been scored on in 62 minutes of play.

While the top pairs deliver, others cling to the cliffside. The breakup of Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse, witnesses to six Canucks goals through three games, strengthened the Oilers' defensive structure, but they were still responsible in Game 4 for a costly slipup (Nurse deflected a shot past Pickard) and regrettable missed tap-in (Ceci's misfire off the rush teed up a two-minute defensive shift for him and Brett Kulak).

Tyler Myers was tentative and backed away from the puck before Hyman scored in the series opener. The Oilers bagged goals in transition when Myers' partner - Carson Soucy in Game 2, Noah Juulsen in Game 4 - pinched to throw a fruitless hit. Edmonton's taken 78.3% of the shot attempts in Soucy-Myers shifts, suggesting that pair could be barraged Thursday when Soucy returns from his cross-checking suspension.

Pull away on special teams

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images

Two factors have stopped the relentless Oilers power play (5-for-10 in the series, 14-for-30 in the postseason) from pushing Vancouver to the edge of elimination.

One is the Canucks' own PP prowess. They scored in Game 2 when Miller fed Pettersson on the weak side and struck twice in Game 3 thanks to Lindholm's dirty work in the bumper role. Sputtering during a double minor in Game 4 - the Canucks gave up seven clearances and a breakaway before they recorded a shot - hampered Vancouver's comeback attempt.

Some combination of disciplined defense and a shortfall of whistles has minimized Vancouver's time in the box. Edmonton's power-play opportunities are down from four per game in the first round to 2.5 in this matchup. For context, every NHL team averaged more than 2.5 man advantages this season.

Decisively win final frame

Andy Devlin / NHL / Getty Images

The trailing team has dictated play in each third period. Both rallied to complete a comeback - Vancouver in the thrilling opener, Edmonton in overtime of Game 2. Silovs' late heroics in Game 3 and leakiness on Bouchard's Game 4 winner proved decisive.

Cowing to the opponent's desperation, neither side has played confidently with the lead. Although Edmonton's shot advantage in third periods (49-21) is monumental, Vancouver's erased multiple two-goal cushions. Silovs' .939 save percentage in the stanza trumps the Oilers' ugly .762 team mark. That explains why Thatcher Demko has barely been missed.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox