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Hockey  

Bouchard scores late winner, Oilers edge Canucks 3-2 in Game 4

Oilers edge Canucks 3-2

EDMONTON — Oilers goalie Calvin Pickard wasn't sure he'd ever play an NHL playoff game. 

At 32 years of age and without a starting role, his chances were limited, but the netminder wasn't about to give up. 

“You’re always believing, you’re hoping. But now that it’s finally here, it’s exciting," Pickard said.

His persistence paid off. 

Pickard made his first start in an NHL playoff game Tuesday, backstopping Edmonton to a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks in their second-round playoff series.

He replaced Edmonton's usual starter Stuart Skinner, who allowed four goals on 15 shots in Edmonton’s Game 3 loss on Sunday.

“(Pickard) looked like a guy who had played 100 playoff games," said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. "Composed, really solid, seeing the puck really well.”

Now in his 13th season of professional hockey, Pickard signed with Edmonton as a free agent in July 2022, but has spent much of his tenure playing for the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. 

He was elevated to the NHL team's backup role in November when the Oilers sent struggling netminder Jack Campbell down to the AHL. 

Backing up hasn't come with consistent ice time, though. Before taking over for Skinner in Game 3 on Sunday, Pickard's last appearance came on April 18. 

Knoblauch said he's been impressed by the goalie, even when he wasn't playing. 

“Continually, his starts have been solid, no matter how long he sat, a week, two weeks," the coach said. "We have a lot of confidence in him and he came up big tonight.” 

Pickard was tested before the first intermission when Evander Kane was handed a double minor for high-sticking.

After an anemic start to the extended man advantage, Vancouver peppered the goalie with a flurry of chances in tight. Pickard withstood the barrage, even after being knocked down and forced to make stops from a seated position as Conor Garland looked to poke a puck in from the blue paint.

Edmonton went 1-for-3 on the power play Tuesday while Vancouver was 0-for-3.

Staying level headed in Tuesday's game wasn't easy, Pickard admitted. 

“I was trying to channel my emotions as much as I could," he said. "Obviously it’s tough, it’s a high-stakes game. Obviously it’s a huge game for us. But I felt comfortable right from the get go.”

The goalie stopped 19 of 21 shots in a victory that levelled the best-of-seven Western Conference series at 2-2. Game 5 is set for Thursday in Vancouver. 

The game wasn't without dramatics.

Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring for the Oilers on a first-period power play and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins added a tally late in the second period.

Vancouver refused to relent, with Garland cutting the deficit to 2-1 midway through the third and Dakota Joshua burying the equalizer 18:19 into the final frame. 

Evan Bouchard played hero for Edmonton, scoring the game winner with 38.1 seconds left on the game clock.

Bouchard's defensive partner Mattias Ekholm wasn't surprised by the late strike.

“It was kind of like when they scored, we played too good of a game to not win this one," he said. "At least I was feeling that we’re going to get it, if not now, then in the overtime.”

Arturs Silovs stopped 27 of 30 shots for Vancouver.

It was another solid performance for the rookie goalie, said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet. 

Others on the team didn't show up in the same way, he added. 

“We’ve been a resilient group all year," Tocchet said. "But we need five or six guys to get going here. I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some guys, I don’t know if they thought it was the playoffs. We can’t play with 12 guys. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

INS AND OUTS

Canucks defenceman Carson Soucy sat out after being handed a one-game suspension for cross-checking Connor McDavid after the final buzzer in Game 3. Noah Juulsen took his spot in the lineup.

PICKARD'S PERSISTENCE

Pickard was originally picked 49th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2010 draft and has played 139 regular-season NHL games for six different teams. The six-foot-one, 206-pound goalie from Moncton, N.B., signed with the Oilers as a free agent in July 2022 and made 23 appearances for the NHL club this season, going 12-7-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and one shutout.

"I know I can play at this level and this year I proved it to myself and everybody around me," Pickard said after morning skate Tuesday.

UP NEXT

The series returns to Vancouver for Game 5 on Thursday. Game 6 goes Saturday in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.



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