Skinner save on Verhaeghe Tonight bug

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Stuart Skinner admits he was livid.

Or, in his own words, "I was pissed off."

The Edmonton Oilers goalie was referring to being benched for Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Vancouver Canucks. He'd been beaten 12 times on 58 shots in the first three games of the best-of-7 series, and coach Kris Knoblauch opted for backup Calvin Pickard to change the momentum.

The normally upbeat Skinner, who always seems to take the high road in public despite any frustration, said all the right things at the time. That he supported Pickard. That he backed whatever the coaching staff felt was best for the team.

On Monday, however, he revealed that the decision had Stu stewing.

In the end, however, Skinner said his main goal was to bounce back and prove people wrong, to show the hockey world just how mentally strong he was and that he could rebound from such a humbling moment.

Consider it done.

Not only did Skinner return to backstop the Oilers to victories in Games 6 and 7 against the Canucks, he outplayed Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger in the Western Conference Final to help the Oilers advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.

Now, with Edmonton down 3-1 heading into Game 5 of the Final at Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC), he's looking to showcase his resiliency yet again, thanks in part to what he learned from his humbling benching against the Canucks.

Just one day before the game, he finally opened up about how much the entire experience motivated him.

"It really [stunk], being on the bench and seeing what happened," Skinner said. "That really pushed me to find my game and do absolutely everything I can, no matter what happens, just to find my way and give the team a chance to win every day and bring that forward against Dallas and obviously to today.

"But it's funny. Going through something like that, in the moment it seems like the worst thing ever, and then a couple of weeks later you look back on it and are nothing but grateful and thankful for that moment."

It's that glass-half-full attitude that has added to the Oilers' confidence that they can come back in the Final, especially after seeing Skinner's effort in Game 4.

The biggest moment might have come with 7:54 remaining in the first period. The Oilers had a 2-1 lead when Panthers forward Sam Bennett fed a perfect pass on a 2-on-1 to Carter Verhaeghe, who immediately snapped the puck at a wide-open net.

Or so it seemed.

Enter Skinner, who did his best imitation of a soccer goalie at UEFA Euro 2024 by acrobatically diving across the net to make the stop, igniting the capacity crowd at Rogers Place to burst into a deafening chorus of "Stuuuuu."

If the puck goes in, the game is tied 2-2 and momentum sways heavily toward the visitors. Instead, the Oilers scored the next six goals en route to an 8-1 victory to extend the series.

"It's a good time to make that save, to say the least," Skinner said. "They made a nice play and were able to get a 2-on-1. I think it was Bennett who made a really nice pass that made it hard on our 'D' and I was just able to get across to make the save.

"In moments like that, you're just trying your absolute hardest to get over and make yourself big. After that, the rest of the game happened.

"It was fun."

Not just for him, but also for his teammates, who referred to the stop as "the save."

"I think in big moments he's definitely stepped up," Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "I think he's been playing great for us and we expect it coming down the stretch here. He's one of those guys, one of those goalies, who steps up in big moments."

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And in the process earns the admiration of his hometown.

"It's obviously pretty special," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Being from [Edmonton], I'm sure he was an Oilers fan growing up, and getting the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Final for his hometown team is pretty special.

"He handles the pressure and everything surrounding it very well."

He'll have to prove that again in the next three games, which the Oilers need to win in order to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1990. And if the trend from the first three rounds is any indication, he gets better late in series.

In the Oilers' final three games against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference First Round, Skinner went 3-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

In the final two games against the Canucks, he went 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .906 save percentage.

And in the final three games against the Stars, he went 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA and .947 save percentage.

Can history repeat itself?

No matter how much the skeptics might disagree, no matter how much the outside world might not believe Edmonton can become the second team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the Final, along with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, Skinner does.

"It's not a matter of what people say, it's a matter of what we believe in the dressing room," he said. "Going through what we've been through either tears you apart or pulls you together. And for us to get where we are shows everybody, no matter what they say, that we've come together as a brotherhood.

"So there's nothing but love in the room for the guys."

And love from the guys for Stuart Skinner.

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