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See-saw Oilers-Stars playoff battle 'hard to explain' but big momentum swings a factor in series

Dallas Stars defenceman Thomas Harley, left, and Edmonton Oilers forward Dylan Holloway battle for the puck during Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference Final on May 29, 2024, in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press) Dallas Stars defenceman Thomas Harley, left, and Edmonton Oilers forward Dylan Holloway battle for the puck during Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference Final on May 29, 2024, in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
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Script flipped.

It was the Edmonton Oilers' turn to come back from a 2-0 hole after starting a game decidedly flat.

In Game 3 on Monday, the Dallas Stars dug themselves out of the same deficit, winning it 5-3 to take a Western Conference Final lead.

In Game 4 on Tuesday, the Oilers scored five unanswered goals after giving up two in the first five-and-a-half minutes of it to win 5-2 and tie the National Hockey League playoff series at two games each.

The spark that started it: Ryan McLeod's goal off a rebound to put the Oilers on the scoresheet and give the hushed crowd at Rogers Place a reason to cheer.

Explaining why it happened, though, is a tougher task, much like trying to decipher why the Oilers had such a strong first period followed by a putrid showing in the following frame of Monday's Game 3.

Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said following Wednesday's win while such an early setback in a relatively important game like this one — an Edmonton loss would've given Dallas a 3-1 series stranglehold — was "hard to overcome," his team somehow "got back to the way (it) was supposed to be playing."

Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said his team didn't have "enough guys playing at a high enough level" to convince themselves their early lead "was real."

But — just like the Oilers missed an opportunity to run up the score late in their dominant first period of Game 3 — the Stars did, too, he told media following Wednesday's match.

If Roope Hintz scores on a breakaway chance that came between Wyatt Johnston's opening goal 58 seconds into the game and Logan Stankoven's marker at 5:29 instead of firing it high and wide past Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner at 5:12, it — assuming the Stars get a 3-0 lead — likely would've changed the complexion of the competition, DeBoer said.

"(It's) probably a lot like the game before when they have the power play, if they go to 3-0," he said. "Maybe that switches things. We didn't, and the rest of the game, they were the better team. That's the bottom line."

Mattias Janmark, who scored the winning goal shorthanded late in the second period, said NHL playoff psychology is "funny."

"Right away, when they scored the second one, we said (to ourselves) 'We were in that position two days ago, and now let's flip the script on them,' and then you get the first one and then you get rolling from there," Janmark told media after the game.

"It's hard to explain why it works that way, but it's nice to be able to do that."

Oilers star Leon Draisaitl, who scored his team's fourth goal less than a minute after Janmark's tally, said each team that has reached this stage of the NHL playoffs -- the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers are also tied 2-2 in their Eastern Conference Final showdown -- "has a lot of belief in what they do," perhaps explaining some of the psychological edge each side can draw upon.

"We're obviously one of those teams," Draisaitl told media after the game.

"We know how good we can be, and when we put everything together, we're a hard team to beat, but so are all the other teams still playing."

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