NHL playoffs: Oilers bounce back with fiery Game 4 win to even series with Vegas

The temperature continues to rise between the Oilers and Golden Knights as this heavyweight second-round series comes down to a best-of-three.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally found the back of the net — a great sign for the Oilers. (Getty)

The Oilers took the latest chapter of the Edmonton-Vegas seesaw battle with a comfortable 4-1 win over the Golden Knights in Game 4 on Thursday.

Nick Bjugstad got the party started for Edmonton about seven minutes in with his third of the playoffs, before Evan Burchard and Mattias Ekholm potted their fourth and first goals of the playoffs, respectively, as the Oilers built a 3-0 lead after one period and never looked back.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also got off the schneid with his first of the postseason to cap the scoring for Edmonton before Nicolas Roy deposited Vegas's only tally early in the third.

Things predictably got pretty nasty at the end of the contest with the game out of reach. Vegas blueliner Alex Pietrangelo was given a 5-minute major and ejected for a wicked slash on Leon Draisaitl before throwing some fusticuffs with Connor McDavid.

Nicolas Hague and Darnell Nurse then dropped the gloves in the fight of the playoffs so far as the game grinded to a halt with the hate-o-meter between these two squads nearing explosive levels.

As the series moves back to Vegas, will the two teams keep trading lopsided wins? If not, who will break that pattern? Both Western Conference series now boil down to best-of-three battles, so we’ll see if one of the Oilers or Golden Knights truly take over, or if it goes the distance with a Game 7.

Surely most fans must be hoping for the latter.

Another hot start for the Oilers; Edmonton splits Draisaitl, McDavid

When the Oilers have beaten the Golden Knights, they’ve done so on the strength of formidable first periods. In Game 2, they outscored the Golden Knights 4-0, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl imposing their will. Draisaitl and McDavid delivered during the first period of Game 4 — as did that incredible Edmonton power play — but it was also more of a group effort.

Could some of that boil down to "spreading the wealth" rather than going top-heavy with McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line? At times, Nick Bjugstad has looked a bit over-extended to a second-line spot, so maybe Bjugstad scored a key 1-0 goal thanks in part to being in a more relaxed role. It could also have been a coincidence; either way, the Oilers aren’t complaining.

Less than a minute later, McDavid set up Evan Bouchard for a 2-0 goal on the power play.

That’s the sort of start you draw up: power-play chances (unlike for most of Game 3), points from the big guns and also supplementary scoring from the supporting cast.

More history from McDavid, Bouchard

Game 3 sticks out for a number of reasons, including Draisaitl, McDavid and Bouchard slowing down. That did not become a trend in Game 4.

Instead, a pattern resumed where some mixture of those two superstars and a rising-star defenseman kept making history. Sportsnet Stats points out that McDavid became just the ninth player in NHL history to record multiple 100-assist campaigns when you combine production in the regular season and playoffs.

This season, McDavid combined a gaudy 89 assists with a career-high 64 goals. By reaching 11-plus assists through 10 playoff games, McDavid exceeded 100 helpers for 2022-23.

Back in 2021-22, McDavid generated 79 assists in the regular season, then added 23 in the playoffs. Uncanny production.

With a power-play goal, Evan Bouchard climbed to 13 power-play points (15 overall). While Bouchard has serious work to do to tie or pass Al MacInnis for the most PPP in a single playoff run (23 in 1989), he’s not that far from at least tying Ray Bourque for second all-time (17 back in 1991).

Skinner save and Ekholm goal limited Game 4 drama

One of the most memorable moments of Game 4 happened with 6:46 remaining in the first period. To start a sequence, Mark Stone got alone in on Stuart Skinner with plenty of time to make a move on him up-close. Skinner was able to get over and make the stop. Some will note two key elements in one: the Skinner save, and a cross-check on Stone that didn’t get called.

It’s well-known that Stone is gutting it out through a vulnerable back after surgery. The Oilers are certainly aware, as they’ve cross-checked him in his back area repeatedly during this series. That wasn’t the only shot Stone took during the first period of Game 4 alone.

Beyond the save and the non-call, the Oilers were able to counter-punch, with Mattias Ekholm’s second attempt from that sequence ending up in a 3-0 goal.

Should the NHL do a better job of addressing all of these shots on Stone — sometimes cheap ones — by, for example, tacking on an intent to injure or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty here and there? Or is this just an ugly "part of the game?"

Pietrangelo slash on Draisaitl: suspension coming?

The Oilers also haven’t been shy about going after Alex Pietrangelo (memorably Evander Kane). Late in Game 4, frustration boiled over for Pietrangelo, who went out of his way to slash Leon Draisaitl with Vegas’ net empty. After that slash, Pietrangelo and McDavid even exchanged pleasantries.

There’s a real chance Pietrangelo could face a suspension for that slash, which drew a major penalty and a game misconduct in the waning moments of Game 4. McDavid told media members that he believes it was suspension-worthy.

Some compared the Pietrangelo slash to Adam Graves on Mario Lemieux in 1992.

Nurse also received an instigator penalty in the closing moments of Game 4 in relation to that aforementioned scrap with Hague, so the Department of Player Safety has some work to do.

These are two big, physical teams. Nastiness should be expected. However, it will be intriguing to see if either team ends up on the wrong end of calls — or injuries — as the series progresses.

There’s no ignoring how much of a catalyst the Oilers’ power play can be, and it’s also worth noting that Vegas took comfortably the fewest penalties (243 compared to 324 for Edmonton) in the NHL during the regular season. Staying out of the box has been a key to the Golden Knights being able to flex their muscles at even-strength, and there’s even more incentive to thread the needle between discipline and physicality against that historic Oilers power play.

Relief for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

After setting career-highs in goals (37) and points (104) during the regular season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t been able to buy a goal in the postseason. While he came into Game 4 with six assists, he was suffering through a 12-game goal drought (including nine in the playoffs).

On the heels of a great keep-in by Cody Ceci and a setup from Connor McDavid, RNH finally scored his first goal of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs to make it 4-0.

Nugent-Hopkins finished with a goal and an assist in Game 4, pushing him to eight goals in 10 playoff games.