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Draisaitl ‘paid to step up in big moments’ as Oilers face elimination

Big centre leads playoff scoring as Edmonton tries avoid Vancouver win on Oiler ice
Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, back left, and Connor McDavid talk before a faceoff against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, in Vancouver, on Thursday, May 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Oilers have been here before, heading back to Edmonton with their season on the line.

The team is looking for a different result this time around.

“You just have to take it one game at a time,” Oilers star Leon Draisaitl said Friday. “We’ve got to go home and win one game at home. That’s all we have to do.”

Edmonton is in must-win territory after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Thursday.

The Canucks hold a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven matchup and can advance to the Western Conference final with a win in Saturday’s Game 6 in Edmonton.

The Oilers have teetered on the brink of elimination before.

Last year, the club fell behind the Golden Knights 3-2 before returning to Edmonton for Game 6. Vegas wrapped up the series with a 5-2 victory in that game and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

“We didn’t win last year’s Game 6. We’ll learn from that, I guess,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said after Thursday’s loss. “You’ve got to be ready to go.”

Limiting McDavid’s production has been key to the Canucks’ success throughout the series.

The superstar didn’t have a point in Games 3 or 5, and was held without a shot on net in Game 1 — the only time that’s happened across his 59 playoff appearances.

Despite the added attention, McDavid has put up one goal and five assists in the series, part of the 18 points he’s amassed across 10 playoff games this year.

The task of taming the elite centre has largely fallen to a line centred by Canucks power forward J.T. Miller, who said balancing respect for McDavid’s skill with aggression has been key.

“Without being disrespectful, I thought the last couple games we were kind of giving Connor a little too much respect, playing not to get scored on a little bit and when you do that, he just gets more time with the puck,” Miller said after scoring the game-winning goal in the final minute of Game 5.

McDavid and Draisaitl are known to rise in pivotal moments, however, and both know they’ll be turned to once again come Saturday.

Draisaitl is riding a point streak that stretches across all 10 of Edmonton’s playoff games this season and leads the league in playoff scoring with 21 points, including three goals and eight helpers against Vancouver.

“That’s what we get paid to do, to step up in big moments,” the German forward said.

Who else will be on the roster could be in flux, Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch hinted Friday. The coaching staff is looking at whether they should add “fresh legs” to help the team, he said.

“I think there’s adjustments, whether those are the lines, fresh body or two coming in,” he said. “Again, those are things we’ll assess and make that decision (on Saturday).”

A question mark also looms over who will start in net for the Oilers.

Stuart Skinner was in goal for the first two games of the series, but was replaced for the third period of Game 3 after allowing four goals on 15 shots.

Calvin Pickard came on in relief, making his NHL playoff debut at the age of 32, and now has a 1-1 post-season record with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

“(Pickard) has been great in the two games he’s played, gave us an opportunity to win both those games,” Knoblauch said. “We’ve slept on (the decision) and we’ll get together today and then we’ll make that decision and decide who’s going to play (on Saturday).”

The Canucks know their opponents will battle hard to keep their season alive, and Vancouver needs to be prepared, said head coach Rick Tocchet.

“The next 48 hours is big,” he said after Thursday’s win. “What we do, how we handle it. It’s a short prosperity, right?

“We win a game — big game — go up 3-2. But it’s going to be so tough there Saturday night. So how do we manage these next 48 hours mentally, physically. That’s the key. That’s playoff hockey.”

READ ALSO: Miller scores late, Canucks grind out 3-2 win over Oilers in Game 5