NHL playoffs: Golden Knights push Oilers to the brink after chasing Skinner again

Is a goalie controversy brewing in Edmonton after Vegas took a 3-2 series lead?

The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers broke the trend of blowouts on Friday. Instead, Game 5 featured a real back-and-forth, not to mention some nail-biting late moments.

Other patterns continued, though, including the Golden Knights once again leading this series. By winning Game 5 by a score of 4-3, the Golden Knights pushed the Oilers to the brink of elimination.

In this one, the Oilers’ power play was often special, just not special enough. Beyond that, Vegas simply did enough to win.

If you wanted some nastiness, a lead change and Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, then Game 5 had you covered.

The Golden Knights emerged victorious in a pivotal Game 5 against the Oilers. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Golden Knights emerged victorious in a pivotal Game 5 against the Oilers. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Oilers’ power play swings first period in Edmonton’s favour

After Reilly Smith received a penalty for hooking close to one minute into Game 5, cameras caught Bruce Cassidy letting out a distressed sigh. Could you really blame him? The Oilers’ power play has been lethal, especially when allowed to operate early in playoff contests.

Cassidy’s dismay ended up justified, even if there was a delay. With only about 10 seconds remaining in that opportunity, McDavid fired in a rebound for the 1-0 goal. It felt somewhat reminiscent of some of the power-play markers McDavid scored against Joonas Korpisalo and the Kings in Round 1, even if it was more of a broken play than a clean look. These goals have had the vibe of McDavid saying “fine, I’ll do it” when teams understandably focus on clogging up passing lanes.

In both rounds, the Oilers power play has consistently delivered. However, Edmonton’s also had a bad habit of quickly giving up those leads. In the case of Game 5, Eichel muscled a puck in to make it 1-1 just 50 seconds later.

Wisely or not, Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft challenged unsuccessfully for goalie interference, thus giving Vegas a power-play opportunity. Luckily for Edmonton, Vegas doesn’t have an almost unnaturally effective man advantage, so that decision ended up not being a game-changer.

The Oilers power play kept up its incredible hit-rate midway through the first period, as Zach Hyman scored a gritty goal to restore Edmonton’s lead 2-1.

Being able to score ugly — not just pretty — on special teams keeps that unit versatile, if not downright oppressive.

After 20 minutes, the Oilers went 2-for-2 on the power play while the Golden Knights failed on their two chances, partially explaining Edmonton’s 2-1 lead.

Too many penalty gambles cost Edmonton in second period

The Golden Knights turned Game 5 on its head in a staggering minute and a half, in part making Edmonton pay for rolling the dice too often when it came to making trips to the box. Eichel drew successive penalties, opening the door for a substantial 5-on-3 opportunity for Vegas. Mark Stone (5-on-3) and Smith (5-on-4) scored two power-play goals a mere 29 seconds apart.

Just like that, the Golden Knights went up 3-2, marking their first lead of Game 5.

While Jonathan Marchessault broke his playoff goal drought in Game 3, Smith connected on his first goal of this run with that 3-2 tally. Through the first nine games, Smith had been limited to five assists.

The Golden Knights weren’t done there, as Nicolas Hague made it 4-2 moments later, giving Vegas three goals in 1:29. Stuart Skinner’s night, however, was done.

Vegas also made some franchise history with that flurry.

Campbell or Skinner? Oilers goalie controversy possible after Game 5

Game 5 continued Skinner’s pattern of rotating sturdy and wobbly performances.

Game 1: Skinner loses, allowing five goals on 33 shots. He made it through the entire contest, at least.

Game 2: Stopping 30 out of 31 shots, Skinner didn't just get a win, he was a rock for Edmonton.

Game 3: After allowing four goals on 23 shots, Skinner got replaced by Jack Campbell. Skinner barely made it through half of the game (32:03 TOI).

Game 4: While Skinner wasn’t as busy as Game 2, he put together a similar victory, allowing one goal on 26 shots. Again, some were tempted to ask: “Imagine how dangerous the Oilers can be with quality goaltending?”

Game 5: His numbers ended up eerily similar to Game 3. Skinner stayed in the net a tiny bit longer (35:34), but once again gave up four goals on 23 shots.

The 24-year-old Skinner also got pulled in Game 4 against the Kings. To be fair to Skinner, the Oilers haven’t exactly been a lockdown defense, and their personnel’s only more limited without Darnell Nurse available.

By the end of Game 5, Campbell didn’t allow a goal, making nine saves.

Perhaps this is the time for a true goalie controversy in Edmonton? Skinner getting pulled three times is tough to ignore, while Campbell’s been sharp in relief duty, stopping 45 out of 47 shots overall in three appearances. Of course, it’s one thing to come in when your team’s already allowed goals (and is most likely in catch-up mode) and another to start with everything fresh.

We’ll see if the Oilers have seen enough to restore some trust in Campbell and lose enough faith in Skinner.

Eichel vs. McDavid

Understandably, people made fun of all of the pre-series hype surrounding Eichel vs. McDavid. The two stars were able to shine brightly in Game 5, though.

Eichel drew consecutive penalties to help set up the aforementioned 5-on-3 opportunity. Along with that goal from the first period, Eichel earned primary assists on Stone’s power-play tally and Hague’s 4-2 strike. You could be forgiven for connecting Eichel’s strong nights to off ones for Skinner, as the American forward produced multi-point contests in Games 1, 3 and 5.

On the other side, by collecting two goals in Game 5, McDavid generated the fourth multi-goal playoff game of his career, giving him the 10th-most in Oilers franchise history.

Kolesar gets major penalty for boarding Ekholm

For most of the second period, it looked like the Golden Knights would receive three power plays versus none for Edmonton. However, in the waning moments of the middle frame, Keegan Kolesar received a boarding major and game misconduct for a hit on Mattias Ekholm.

Ekholm was very slow to get up, and clearly bloodied by the hit. Impressively, Ekholm was able to return to begin the third period — he was even on the ice during that major opportunity on the power play.

That penalty set the stage for a fascinating situation: the Golden Knights began the third period up 4-2, but that Oilers man advantage had most of a major penalty to work with. All things considered, the Golden Knights had to be satisfied to only allow McDavid’s second power-play goal of Game 5 and nothing else.

Third period messy like Hutton’s bloodied nose

Starting the third with most of a major penalty already set the stage for things to possibly be off-rhythm. The tempo stayed funky from there.

Ben Hutton’s nose was bloodied by a high stick, giving Vegas what would be a fleeting four-minute power-play chance. Some of that time was eaten away when Eichel was whistled for roughing when he retaliated against Vincent Desharnais.

Via Natural Stat Trick, only a bit more than two-thirds (42:43) of Game 5 was played at even strength. Clearly, the Oilers prefer plenty of penalty calls to none, but it allowed time to move strangely.

Suddenly, the Oilers' season is on the line, and they don’t have much time to mull over how Vegas got the best of them on Friday.