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'We're back in it': Pickard wins, Oilers tie series 2-2

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Published in Hockey
Wednesday, 15 May 2024 00:29

For all the questions about his first career playoff start, goaltender Calvin Pickard found the answers in the Edmonton Oilers' 3-2 win Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

Pickard made 19 saves in a victory that saw the Oilers overcome a tense third period to tie the series at 2-2 with the Western Conference semifinals shifting to Game 5 on Thursday in Vancouver.

"I was trying to channel my emotions as much as I could," Pickard told reporters after the game. "Obviously, it's tough. It's a high-stake game. Obviously, a huge game for us but I felt comfortable right from the get-go. We had energy early. The crowd was into it. We played great all night. They got a couple good bounces for us, but it didn't deflate us. ... And we're back in it."

Initially, Pickard began the postseason backing up Stuart Skinner, who has been the Oilers' No. 1 goaltender going back to last season. Skinner's place came into question during Game 3. He was pulled to start the third period in what was ultimately a Canucks victory which saw his numbers plummet to a 4.63 goals-against average and a .790 save percentage in the series.

Skinner's performances created even more questions considering how the Oilers' defensive structure has performed against the Canucks. The Oilers had allowed an average of less than 20 shots over the first three games with the Canucks averaging 7.3 high-danger scoring chances per contest in that time.

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch was noncommittal about who would start Game 4. Two days later, he turned to Pickard with the belief that he could play a role in the Oilers tying the series rather than being a game away from elimination.

Pickard had an 11-save shutout entering the third period of a series that has proven chaotic. Game 1 saw the Canucks score three unanswered to overcome a two-goal deficit, while Game 2 saw the Oilers use the final frame of regulation to force what became an overtime victory.

Game 4 was no different. The Oilers held a two-goal lead, forcing the Canucks to become more aggressive. Natural Stat Trick's metrics show that the Canucks went from a combined 33.43% shot share in the first two periods to controlling possession with a 66.7% shot share in the third.

Having that level of control opened the door for Conor Garland to cut the lead to 2-1 with less than seven minutes left in the third. The Canucks would pull goaltender Arturs Silovs with a little more than two minutes left.

It gave them a 6-on-5 which led to Dakota Joshua deflecting a shot past Pickard to tie the game at 2-2 with less than two minutes left.

Or at least it did until Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard fired a shot from the point through traffic that beat Silovs to give the Oilers a 3-2 lead with 39 seconds left to win the game and give Pickard his first postseason victory.

"It definitely wasn't ideal giving up that second one in the third," Bouchard said. "But there wasn't much time to sulk and think about it. We still had to go out and still finish the period."

Knoblauch once again remained noncommittal in his postgame remarks about who would get the start in Game 5. But he did say Pickard's efforts "allowed us a lot of confidence if we did do that."

Whoever Knoblauch turns to will be tasked with trying to help the Oilers come out of Vancouver with a 3-2 series lead and the chance to end the series at home in Game 6.

Unless the Oilers were to lose Game 5. Then, it would be a matter of finding the goalie who Knoblauch feels can help the Oilers stave off elimination and potentially advance to the Western Conference final.

"Since I've been here in mid-November, I've been impressed with how well he's played," Knoblauch said of Pickard. "The few games that maybe his stats say he wasn't very good maybe go back to December. But I know in front of him, we didn't play very well. We left him out there to dry ... Continually, his starts have been solid. No matter how long he sat, a week, two weeks. We have a lot of confidence in him, and he came up big tonight."

A second-round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, the 32-year-old Pickard has been well-traveled since debuting in the 2014-15 season. He has spent much of his career splitting time between the NHL and the AHL.

His career has seen him play for the Avs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Arizona Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings before joining the Oilers organization in the 2022-23 season.

Pickard's first season with the organization was spent playing for the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL. But his second season saw him take a greater role given the decisions they were facing with Jack Campbell.

Campbell, who is in the second of a five-year contract worth $5 million annually, struggled to start the season. His 1-4 record coupled with inconsistent performances from last year culminated in Campbell going to the AHL with Pickard getting called up to be Skinner's understudy.

Pickard went 12-7-1 with a 2.45 GAA and a .909 save percentage. The 23 games he played with the Oilers this season were the most since he played 50 games for the Avs during the 2016-17 season.

And Tuesday saw him win his first playoff start with the reality that he could be in line for more.

"I don't know if it's quite sunk in yet," Pickard said. "It was a big win for us. It's been a long time. Obviously, making my debut 10 years ago and not getting playoff action really much at either level, but it's an exciting opportunity for me. The guys played great in front of me, and now it's a best of three."

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