Avalanche down Oilers 4-2 to take 3-0 stranglehold on Western Conference final

Avalanche down Oilers 4-2 to take 3-0 stranglehold on Western Conference final


Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher (37) scores on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith (41) as Leon Draisaitl (29) defends during third period NHL conference finals action in Edmonton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher (37) scores on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith (41) as Leon Draisaitl (29) defends during third period NHL conference finals action in Edmonton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON – Evan Bouchard’s bullet shot on a power play with under eight minutes to go in regulation clanked off Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz’s right post.

Eleven seconds later, the Oilers defenceman was picking himself up off the ice, outmuscled by J.T. Compher at Edmonton’s blue line after the Colorado centre exited the penalty box before sneaking an innocent-looking shot through Mike Smith’s pads.

The Oilers were close Saturday night — a lot closer than they’ve been all series.

They’re also now on the brink of elimination.

Compher scored with 7: 18 left in the third period as Colorado defeated Edmonton 4-2 to take a commanding 3-0 stranglehold on the NHL’s Western Conference final.

“A game of inches … it showed there,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who opened the scoring 38 seconds into the first inside a frothing Rogers Place. “If that’s an inch on the other side for (Bouchard) it’s in.

“Not a great situation, but not over.”

Compher’s terrific individual effort for his fifth goal of the playoffs, which have all come in the last four games, has Colorado one victory from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup final berth since winning its second title in 2001.

“I didn’t see it go in,” he said of the winner. “I thought it was in (Smith’s) pads the way he was moving.

“It took me a second.”

Valeri Nichushkin, with two, and Mikko Rantanen, into an empty net, had the other goals for Colorado. Devon Toews added two assists.

Francouz, who made his second straight start after picking up a 4-0 shutout Thursday in place of the injured Darcy Kuemper, stopped 27 shots.

Ryan McLeod provided the rest of the offence for Edmonton, which will look to extend its first trip to the conference final since 2006 on Monday.

“Every play counts,” Smith said after finishing with 39 saves. “The desperation level has to be at an all-time high in order to win at this time of the year. It comes from everybody in the room — just a little bit more.

“There’s not a lot of space out there, but you gotta give everything you have for one game.”

Only four NHL teams have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to accomplish the feat in the first round of the 2014 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.

“We’re going to process the game,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We’re going to make a couple of tweaks here and there.

“We’re coming in with the (same) mindset as we’ve had all year long, which is we’ve got to win one hockey game.”

It wasn’t all good news for the Avalanche, however, after centre Nazem Kadri was hurt on a hit from behind by Edmonton winger Evander Kane just over a minute into the first period.

Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said his player will be out for at least the rest of the series. Kane was assessed a five-minute penalty for boarding, which the Oilers killed off, but avoided a game misconduct.

“The most dangerous play in hockey,” Bednar said. “He puts him in head-first from behind, eight feet from the boards. I’ll leave it at that.”

Down 2-1 entering the final period and with their season effectively on the line, McLeod scored his third at 7: 34 when he moved into the Colorado zone and fired a shot from distance that fooled Francouz.

Edmonton got that power play in the third, with the Colorado netminder redeeming himself on a terrific McDavid opportunity before Bouchard hit the post to set the stage for Compher’s heroics.

Smith then made a huge stop on Nichushkin to keep his team in it late, but the Oilers couldn’t find a way back as Rantanen iced it with his fourth into the empty net.

“The margin of error this time of year is extremely slim,” Kane said. “We’re seeing that first-hand.”

Tied 1-1 after the first, both Francouz and Smith were called on to make big saves early in the second before the Avalanche took their first lead.

Following an offensive zone faceoff win, Toews’ shot hit Nathan MacKinnon in front and fell kindly for Nichushkin, who buried his second of the night and fifth of the post-season at 4: 38.

Smith kept the Oilers within one as the period wore on, stopping Rantanen off the rush and Cale Makar from the slot before denying Nichushkin with a desperation save.

Woodcroft, who was without top-six winger Kailer Yamamoto after he took a hit from Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog in Game 2, once again shook things up heading into Saturday, promoting the bruising Zack Kassian to his top line, and going with 11 forwards and seven defencemen.

McDavid set Rogers Place alight moments after the opening faceoff when he snapped his ninth goal, and NHL-leading 30th point in 15 playoffs games, past Francouz on the night’s first shot.

Edmonton’s captain tied Rick Middleton (15 contests in 1983) for the sixth fewest games in NHL history to reach the mark in a post-season, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (11 in 1983, 12 in 1985, and 14 in 1988), Mario Lemieux (13 in 1992) and Mark Messier (14 in 1988).

Kane then delivered that dangerous hit from behind on Kadri shortly thereafter to put the Oilers on their heels.

“Just coming in on the backcheck,” he said when asked for his interpretation of events. “Puck went wide, kind of dribbled into the corner. I know he likes to reverse hit. I was just trying to get a bump on him, that’s really all I did.

“Unfortunately he went into the boards awkwardly and hurt his hand.”

Smith stopped all nine Colorado’s shots on the ensuing man advantage, including terrific saves on MacKinnon and Landeskog.

The Edmonton netminder then made a huge double-pad stack off Landeskog on another penalty kill as the Oilers were short-handed for seven of the game’s first 12 minutes.

The Avalanche didn’t have a shot on goal at even strength in the period, but tied it with 3: 48 left when Nichushkin’s pass in front went off the stick of Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse and beat a surprised Smith shortside.

The home side came close to going back in front late in the period, but Francouz got a piece of a Kassian effort in tight before clearing a loose puck off his goal line on another night where Edmonton’s high-power attacked couldn’t get going against Colorado’s skill, speed and defensive tenacity.

“There are things we can do better,” Woodcroft said. “But I thought our compete, our try, was there. It came down to one play.

“They made one extra play and they found the win.”

The Oilers, meanwhile, need one Monday just to keep their season alive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2022.

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