Jason Franson / Canadian Press via AP
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2023 | 9:51 p.m.
Updated 1 hour, 10 minutes ago
If it usually takes one, maybe two moments in a playoff game to spark a rivalry, the final 10 minutes of Game 4 between the Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers had about five of them.
Players are swinging their hockey sticks like baseball bats. Cross-checks to the face as blatant as the eye can see. Fights with less than a minute to go. All the hilarity you could expect in a second-round series that is now down to a best-of-3.
Yet, as the Golden Knights lost 4-1 in Game 4 at Rogers Place on Wednesday, tying their series with Edmonton at 2-2, the talk should be focused on how Vegas got severely outplayed for the first time in this back-and-forth series. More on that later.
Right now, the aftermath goes to what could be to come in the all-important Game 5 back at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (7 p.m., TNT).
Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct with 1:27 remaining in the game for slashing — in this case, swinging his stick like a baseball bat — at Edmonton star Leon Draisaitl.
Moments later, Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse instigated a fight with Vegas’ Nicolas Hague, and both were removed from the game.
Nurse’s situation, by rule, could lead to a one-game suspension according to Rule 46.21 in the NHL’s rulebook.
While there’s no rule that says Pietrangelo could serve a suspension for slashing, the likelihood of him getting a call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today is high.
Whether or not suspensions could be coming, the Golden Knights missed a chance to seize control of the series.
This was the Golden Knights’ chance to put the pressure on the Oilers after a dominant Game 3 victory Monday. How Vegas played that game — keeping it 5-on-5, keeping Edmonton’s stars away from the middle of the ice — was a perfect response after losing Game 2 on Saturday, 5-1.
But as has been the case this entire series between the Pacific Division’s top two teams, neither team wants to grab momentum.
After Vegas’ thrilling 6-4 win in Game 1, the Oilers pushed back for the resounding 5-1 win in Game 2. The Golden Knights answered with a pushback of their own in Game 3, winning by the same margin as in Game 2 and playing their most complete game of the series.
“You chalk it up to two really good hockey teams that have just outplayed one or the other,” defenseman Alec Martinez said.
Game 4 was the Oilers’ most complete effort by far.
Edmonton, which had been outplayed at 5-on-5 all series, scored three times at even strength and needed only one power-play goal. But much like Game 2, the Golden Knights fell behind early and couldn’t recover.
Nick Bjugstad (6:46) and Evan Bouchard (7:38) scored 52 seconds apart in the first period to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. Mattias Ekholm (13:30) made it 3-0 Edmonton.
It wasn’t as lethal as Game 2, where the Oilers scored two power-play goals and a shorthanded goal by Connor McDavid as part of a four-goal first period.
This was more effective, though. The Oilers got goals from their top two defensemen and a middle-six forward, with McDavid and Draisaitl recording one assist each.
“I don’t think it was our greatest night on the forecheck,” captain Mark Stone said. “We’ve got to be ready for Friday night.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights’ game that was successful in Game 3 couldn’t materialize. The Oilers were the more physical team, out-hitting Vegas 46-36. The Golden Knights were outshot 24-13 at 5-on-5 and out-attempted 37-26.
The Golden Knights also had just one high-danger chance at even strength through two periods.
But that’s not to say they didn’t have their opportunities.
The Golden Knights had three of their four power-play opportunities in the second period; two of them came consecutively from 7:57 to 10:02 of the frame, but failed to capitalize. The Oilers did, however, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his first goal of the postseason at 14:45 to make it 4-0.
“If we move the puck quicker, we don’t put ourselves in those spots,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’re one of the final eight teams in the playoffs. If you’re not ready to play and you don’t expect that, you’re going to be in trouble.”
It wound up being a night to forget for Adin Hill in his first career playoff start. He made 29 saves, but the shots he saw were far more dangerous than the 24 he stopped in relief of Laurent Brossoit in Game 3.
At the other end, Edmonton rookie Stuart Skinner rebounded after being pulled in Game 3 with a 25-save effort. It would’ve been a perfect night for Skinner had Nicolas Roy’s goal at 5:58 of the third ended the shutout bid.
The Golden Knights entered the playoffs as the least-penalized team in the league at 273 penalties (583 penalty minutes). Games 2 and 4 saw a combined 134 penalty minutes for the Golden Knights; 56 of their 64 on Wednesday came in the third period when hilarity ensued.
On top of Pietrangelo getting tossed from the game, Chandler Stephenson was given a 10-minute misconduct at 12:55 for holding Kailer Yamamoto’s stick from the bench.
Jonathan Marchessault was given a game misconduct for retaliation against Oilers forward Evander Kane for cross-checking Pietrangelo earlier in the period. Brett Howden was given a misconduct late for goalie interference.
If the bad blood wasn’t evident before, it is now.
This seesaw series now returns to Las Vegas. The pendulum favors no one. Both teams have a win at home and on the road. The Oilers have a 14-13 scoring edge in a series that has seen three games decided by three goals or more.
Much like the rest of the second round, this series has made no sense. Game 5 is the ultimate swing game. And somehow, this seems far from over.
“It’s a bit of what happens in the playoffs,” Cassidy said. “Temperature goes up as the series goes along. It’ll probably go up some more in Game 5.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.