EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suffered a severe headache in Edmonton.
The 2011 first pick missed the playoffs in seven of their first eight seasons in the NHL, as the Oilers repeatedly fumbled and fumbled in what must have felt like an endless rebuild.
After an impressive comeback midway through the third period on Tuesday night, Nugent-Hopkins rose to the occasion when he was needed most.
Nugent-Hopkins scored his second goal of the game with 3:27 remaining in regulation time, and the Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 5–3 to take a 3–1 lead in the second-round playoff series.
“The main thing was that we had to keep pushing,” Nugent-Hopkins said after Rasmus Andersson scored short of players from 150 feet away as Calgary rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game. “Things like that happen, it’s hockey. Jumps happen.
“There was no backlash.”
Edmonton caretaker coach Jay Woodcroft credited Nugent-Hopkins, who was playing only the 32nd playoff game of his 11-season career, with stepping up the staggering team.
“It’s inspiring,” said Woodcroft, whose Oilers are now one victory away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006. “There’s room for greatness from everyone on our team.
“Tonight was Ryan’s moment.”
Evander Kane scored his 11th and 12th goals in the postseason, and Zach Hyman added a goal for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl added three assists and Mike Smith made 29 saves.
Connor McDavid also provided two assists. He has 25 points from 11 playoff games for the Oilers, who claimed a third straight win over their provincial rival.
Andersson, Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund scored for Calgary. Jacob Markstrom stopped 21 shots.
“We all believe in this group,” Andersson said. “We were a good team all year and we were strong on the ice at home. We just have to go home and focus on winning a game and start from there.
“Obviously, we are in a difficult situation.”
Calgary will try to avoid elimination on Thursday at home in Game 5.
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After losing 3-0 after the first period and 3-2 in two periods, Calgary tied the game in the third on an Edmonton power play when Andersson fired a 150-foot clear attempt from his own side that somehow tricked Smith at 10:56.
With the Oilers faltering, Nugent-Hopkins scored his fourth goal in the playoffs ahead of Markstrom.
Andersson then conceded a four-minute high kick penalty with 2:40 left to effectively kill the game before Kane freezes it by scoring into an empty net.
“I can laugh now, right?” a relieved Smith said. “I don’t think there was a point in my career where I lost the record, where I have no idea where it went.
“You don’t want that to happen… ever. It was an unbelievable goal by Nuge in the end… a win is a win.”
Edmonton also had a 2-1 first-round lead against the Los Angeles Kings, only to play what the Oilers described as their worst performance of the month in a 4-0 loss. This time, they dominated the series without their best effort.
“Every game you play in the playoffs, you gain experience,” Smith said. “There are ebbs and flows in a game, in a series, and they are all learning experiences.”
Markstrom, who had conceded 14 goals in the series before being retired after two spells with Calgary losing Sunday’s Game 3 4-0, threw the puck behind his own net in the first round but hit Nugent-Hopkins. . Stick. He scored the third.
The goal was the third-fastest in Oilers playoff history, behind only McDavid (19 seconds in 2020) and Fernando Pisani (16 seconds in 2006).
One of three finalists for the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalkeeper, Markstrom bounced back to deny Darnell Nurse a chance a few minutes later, before Smith was at his peak on a once-in-a-lifetime chance from Johnny Gaudreau.
Calgary winger Tyler Toffoli suffered a stumbling penalty and the Oilers made the Flames pay when Hyman overcame a limping Chris Tanev – back in the lineup for the first time since Game 6 of the opening round despite a suspected injury in the upper body – in tight, scoring his fifth goal of the series and seventh of the playoffs at 9:53.
The Flames, who led the Pacific Division in the regular season, pulled back with some decent changes, but Kane, who was coming off a natural hat-trick in Game 3, went 3-0 with 66 seconds left in the period on a shot that cut the blueliner Nikita Zadorov.
Calgary showed some life in the slick power play in the second with Kane out to cut. Lindholm ended up picking the top corner for his fifth goal at 9:04 after the Oilers failed to clear the defensive zone twice.
Backlund got the Flames to a 3-2 lead just 36 seconds later when he passed Duncan Keith and fired his fourth at Smith.
Smith made a good stop on a Lindholm power-play chance early in the third, before Edmonton took their second lead with 11 minutes remaining in regulation time.
Markstrom kept his team at bay with a great stop at Draisaitl, who became the first player in NHL history to record more than three points in four consecutive playoff games with an assist on the Oilers goal.