Carter Verhaeghe joins Caroline Cameron following the Florida Panthers’ 4-3 Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins, discussing where his overtime winner ranks among his career tallies, and where the team found the belief to pull off the monumental upset.
LOS ANGELES — The rookie goalie had never had it happen to him before, while the 750-game defenceman could only rub his prodigious beard and mutter, “Never seen anything like it.”
Oilers fans will recall the Miracle on Manchester back in 1982? That was when the Boys on the Bus squandered that 5-0 lead and lost a playoff game to the Kings, 6-5 in overtime.
Well, Mattias Ekholm watched in amazement from the bench as a new chapter in this Kings-Oilers rivalry played out, a broken goalie stick that nearly forced a Game 7 in a series the Oilers had in the palm of their collective hand.
It was the Fluke on Figeuroa, and it darned near sent us all home for an edgy Game 7 at Rogers Place.
“It’s okay that there’s some drama in the story,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, whose team is penning a new chapter in Oilers lore once again this spring.
With Edmonton leading this series-clinching game 4-3 and set to put it away on a powerplay with 12 minutes to play — goalie Stuart Skinner gathered a puck at the top of his crease as defenceman Evan Bouchard peeled away to the corner awaiting the puck.
He was, Skinner said, “just trying to hit Boosh with a nice, crisp pass.”
Then, his goal stick buckled. It had been cracked earlier by an Adrian Kempe whack, but that damned CCM waited for the least opportune moment to crater.
Skinner fanned on his pass, Phillip Danault cashed the easiest shorthanded goal of his career, and the game was suddenly in the balance.
“Free goal for that guy,” said Skinner.
What was going on between a young goaler’s ears in the ensuing moments, the momentum swinging 100 per cent in the Kings’ favour?
“My first thought was, ‘I like it the hard way,’” Skinner said. “I want to win the hard way, and being able to let go of that very quickly, make some saves, and let the guys know that we can relax. It’s all gonna be okay.”
Thanks to a Kailer Yamamoto goal with 3:03 to play, this far exceeded just “okay.”
Edmonton pulled this one of the murky mire, winning the game 5-4 and closing out the Kings in six.
They’ll spend a couple of days chilling here in L.A., then it’s off to Vegas for a Round 2 meeting with the Golden Knights.
Surely, the playoff journey has more to teach Skinner. He just can’t think of what that could possibly be, right now.
“Honestly, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs here — and my first time around — I feel like I’ve kind of gone through quite a bit,” smiled the Calder Trophy candidate. “Losing in overtime, being pulled in a first period, being able to win a game and able to win a series…
“Breaking a stick and letting an easy goal go in, that’s all part of life and the experience. I’m very grateful for those lessons.”
In the end, as the Oilers move past the Kings for the second consecutive spring, no one is questioning why, or wondering why.
“I personally think we were the better team throughout,” said Ekholm. “There were stints where we were on our heels, but I think for the most part we were the better team.
“We got some challenges thrown at us early, I guess the bounces weren’t maybe going our way. But in Game 5 we got some bounces, we got some greasy goals and (some more) tonight again. Over seven games it usually evens out.”
Said Kings head coach Todd McLellan, “We’ve made some improvements … but, so have they. It’s still not good enough.”
The Kings are better than they were 12 months ago, by a bit. But Edmonton is better by a lot, and McLellan can’t like what he sees over the next five years or so.
“This team that we’ve played for the last two years isn’t going anywhere,” he projected. “We’re probably going to have to play them again and again and again.”
The jets on this rocket are still found on a powerplay which operated at a preposterous 56.3 per cent in this series, scoring nine goals on 16 opportunities. When the chips were down in Game 6 however, McLellan was left to lament, “We gave up four even strength goals tonight. We don’t do that very often.”
In a series that concludes with Leon Draisaitl (7-4-11) and Connor McDavid (3-7-10) sitting tied for second and fourth respectively in playoff scoring, it was a pair of fourth liners who scored three of Edmonton’s five goals on Saturday.
Klim Kostin (two goals) and Kailer Yamamoto, the former Los Angeles Junior King who scored the series-winner, opened the game in Jay Woodcroft’s 11 and seven system as orphans — two wingers without a centre. They scored two goals with Ryan McLeod at centre, and another with Draisaitl in the middle, a tidy bit of depth scoring that makes Edmonton — with all its high-end talent — very difficult to beat.
The Kings were e-Klim-inated. Who would have seen that coming?
“People look at the Oilers and think it’s a two- or three-man team,” said McDavid. “It’s couldn’t be further from that at all.”
On the night where folks in Southern Ontario celebrated the first Leafs series win in 19 years, the Oilers claimed their third series in the past calendar year.
They just beat a very strong defensive Kings team with excellent goaltending. Now they get the more offensive-leaning Golden Knights, where they hold a four-game winning streak on T-Mobile ice.
Edmonton is good — very good — and confident to boot.
“We are sure of ourselves and wholly sure of what our opportunity is before us here,” Woodcroft said. “And we have an understanding that it’s not always gonna be smooth sailing.
“To discover is superior to being told,” Woodcroft philosophized. “Sometimes you have to go through something like this in order to see what you’re made of.”
Onward and forward.
What happens in Vegas? Whatever it is, it can’t be any more weird than what we just witnessed in L.A.