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Defensive prowess at end of Game 7 key to Oilers' victory over Canucks

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Every game has pivotal moments.

Of the ones the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks encountered in Game 7 of their playoff series Monday night, the dying minutes of the decisive second-round showdown arguably provided the most drama.

And while the successful kill of a four-minute Canucks power play by the Oilers late in the first period and into the second was a huge moment, too, the sheer turmoil of the game's dying scenes was enough to turn the staunchest stomach.

The Canucks had already increased their tempo after Conor Garland scored part-way through the third period for their first goal of the game when Filip Hronek's slap shot got past Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner four minutes later to make it 3-2 Edmonton.

Cue potential chaos.

That's when Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch called a time-out to settle his players down and offer encouragement.

The remaining 4:36 stands as testament to how Knoblauch's words and a pep talk delivered by defenceman Darnell Nurse during the final TV timeout calmed the Oilers' nerves.

While the Canucks turned up the pressure even more, the Oilers stayed focused on fending them off. And did.

It was "a great job of bending but not breaking," Edmonton star Connor McDavid said of the effort.

"We did a good job of just rolling the lines, killing the clock and keeping them to the outside," McDavid said following the game.

"It (got) interesting eventually as they're playing for their (playoff) lives. They were pushing hard, sending everyone every time."

That effort effectively quashed the Canucks' attack. While the remainder of the game was spent mostly in the Oilers' end amid the sustained roar of the Rogers Arena crowd, the Canucks failed to get a shot on Skinner despite several chances.

Here's how the final 4:36 played out:

  • 4:25: Following an icing call, Canucks centre Elias Lindholm beats Oilers counterpart Leon Draisaitl on the faceoff.
  • 4:10: With the puck in the Oilers' end, Draisaitl uses his stick to deflect a Dakota Joshua pass attempt to Jonas Hoglander.
  • 4:00: Oilers winger Dylan Holloway blocks a shot from the point by Canucks defenceman Nikita Zadorov
  • 3:55: Zadorov recovers the puck but has his pass attempt to Hoglander deflected out of play by Draisaitl. Oilers centre Sam Carrick beats Canucks' J.T. Miller on the ensuing defensive zone faceoff, getting the puck to winger Connor Brown who clears it.
  • 3:40: After McDavid carries the puck into the Canucks zone, Oilers forward Warren Foegele handles the puck along the end boards over a 15-second span, fending off the Vancouver forecheck and eventually finding McDavid for a shot on goalie Arturs Silovs.
  • 3:20: Oilers winger Zach Hyman picks up the puck following McDavid's shot behind the Canucks net, battling three Canucks for possession and pinning it over 10 seconds.
  • 3:10: Garland regains possession of the puck for Vancouver but spends the next 25 seconds circling back into his zone to evade the Oilers' forecheck before passing it to defenceman Tyler Myers, who carries it past his own blue line. In all, the Oilers kept the puck in the Canucks zone for one minute.
  • 2:38: Canucks defenceman Carson Soucy passes the puck into the slot in front of Skinner, but it deflects off the skate of Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm. The Canucks circle back into their zone to regroup after trying to pull Silovs for an extra attacker.
  • 1:51: After possession goes back and forth between the two sides, the Canucks pull Silovs for an extra skater after getting the puck deep into the Oilers' zone. Hyman subsequently gets hold of the puck and flips it to centre ice.
  • 0:52: After a battle along the boards in the Oilers end, Draisaitl retrieves the puck and carries it out, racing Canucks captain Quinn Hughes into the Vancouver end, where Hughes wins it back.
  • 0:12: In their best scoring chance over the last four-and-a-half minutes, Canucks winger Elias Pettersson wins a puck battle and quickly feeds Miller in the high slot. His one-timer deflected harmlessly off the skate of teammate Zadorov, who was waiting untouched in front of Skinner, to the ice in front of him, where McDavid batted the puck off teammate Mattias Janmark and out of the Oilers zone.

Final score in Game 7: 3-2 Oilers.

Final shots: 29-17 Oilers.

Final blocked-shot tally: 21-8 Oilers.

"(There were) some big blocks," Nugent-Hopkins, one of nine Oilers players who recorded a blocked Canucks shot with three, said after the game.

"They've got a lot of skill, and the best way to deter that is to keep them to the outside ...

"It's something that we talked about, corrected a little bit into the third (period) and didn't give up as many (shots). If you play a team that's pushing back in Game 7, you've got to keep them as much to the outside and let your goaltender take care of the rest."

Knoblauch said he saw many "key" defensive plays at game's end that helped the Oilers overcome the pressing Canucks, "whether breaking up a play in the slot with a stick or I don't know how many key block shots we had ..."

"If we're going to have success, and we talked about it right through the regular season and in the playoffs, the best teams are the ones that can defend," he said.

"We need to be able to defend, and overall (in) the series, I thought we did a pretty good job." 

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