Nugent-Hopkins leads Oilers past Stars to take 3-2 lead in Western Conference final

DALLAS — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lived the Edmonton Oilers' darkest days.

The once-proud franchise endured a decade of playoff-less springs, management missteps and coaching blunders.

The Oilers were a punchline across the NHL.

Now the organization's longest-tenured player and his teammates sit a single victory from the Stanley Cup final.

Nugent-Hopkins scored two power-play goals Friday as Edmonton smothered the Dallas Stars 3-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference final.

"This is why we play, this is why we work so hard," said the top pick at the 2011 draft. "To get ourselves in these situations and to be a part of a group like this is all you can ask for. We have an opportunity here.

"It's going to take a lot of work, but we're excited for it."

Philip Broberg had the other goal for Edmonton. Stuart Skinner made 19 saves. Evan Bouchard added two assists.

Wyatt Johnston replied for Dallas, which has lost two in a row and now faces elimination after leading the best-of-seven series 2-1. Jake Oettinger stopped 23 shots. Stars defenceman Chris Tanev suited up after taking a shot off his right foot in Wednesday's second period.

"If you're going to draw up a road game, that's pretty much what you want to do," Dallas head coach Pete DeBoer said. "Get the lead and then defend well all night."

The Oilers, who last made the final in 2006 and last hoisted hockey's holy grail in 1990, can close things out Sunday in Edmonton. Game 7, if necessary, would be Tuesday back in Dallas.

The winner of Game 5 when a best-of-seven matchup is tied 2-2 has gone on to win 78.8 per cent of the time (231-62).

Nugent-Hopkins, 31, missed the post-season seven of his first eight campaigns before things really started to turn. Edmonton had drafted Leon Draisaitl in 2014 before truly hitting the jackpot with Connor McDavid a year later.

It took time. Now the Oilers believe it's theirs.

"Amazing," McDavid said of Nugent-Hopkins. "He gets asked to do so much on this team … he's asked to do everything and just always delivers.

"He was awesome."

The veteran forward scored the first power-play goal of the series at 14:09 of the opening period after Bouchard's one-timer was blocked by Tanev. The puck popped right to Nugent-Hopkins to swat home his fifth of the playoffs.

"He was my favourite player growing up," said Skinner, a 25-year-old Edmonton product. "Being able to play with him, I've learned there's a lot more to him than just hockey."

The hockey part, however, is pretty good.

After killing off their 25th straight penalty dating back to Game 4 of the second round, the Oilers made it 2-0 on another power play 66 seconds into the second when Bouchard and Draisaitl combined to find a streaking Nugent-Hopkins, who ripped a shot in off the post.

Draisaitl joked Friday morning the Burnaby, B.C., native might be head coach Kris Knoblauch's favourite player because of his attention to detail. The rookie bench boss was diplomatic when asked about that, playfully adding his list changes game-to-game.

Edmonton's No. 93 owned top spot in Game 5.

"I told him tonight, he's my favourite," Knoblauch said. "He had a good game. A lot of guys had a good game."

The Oilers went up by three 4:03 later when Broberg — inserted into the lineup in Game 4 — blasted his first through a crowd.

Dallas got a bit of life after finally killing off an Edmonton man advantage, but the visitors fended off a 25th straight short-handed opportunity late in the period thanks to a couple good Skinner stops on Tyler Seguin and Johnston.

The Oilers goaltender then made big saves on Logan Stankoven, Matt Duchene and Sam Steel in the third to keep the Stars off the scoreboard before Johnston broke the shutout bid with his 10th on a deflection at 14:09, but Edmonton held on and will head home up 3-2.

"We give ourselves a chance here," Nugent-Hopkins said. "That's all you can ask."

An opportunity that's been a long time coming.


Stars winger Joe Pavelski became the 25th player in NHL history to dress for 200 post-season games. Oilers forward Corey Perry — the league's active leader — made his 208th appearance to tie Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr.


McDavid and Draisaitl picked up assists to overtake Oilers great and current assistant coach Paul Coffey for fifth on the franchise's all-time playoff points list. Edmonton's dynamic duo each have 104 points in 66 career games, while Coffey amassed 103 in 94 contests.


Bouchard (45 games played) became the third-fastest defenceman in NHL history to reach 50 playoff points behind only Bobby Orr (39 GP) and Brian Leetch (41 GP).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press