Evander Kane recorded his fourth career hat trick Friday night as the Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff spot with a 6-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place.
“I thought he was a physical presence today,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said of Kane after the game.
“I thought he added an emotional attachment to the game that got everybody into it, and it was nice to see him rewarded with a game like that.”
The Oilers gave up a string of odd-man rushes partway through the first. The Avs made them pay on a three-on-one with Bowen Byram feeding Valeri Nichushkin for his 23rd goal of the season.
Late in the first and into the second, the Oilers’ penalty kill came up big, fending off the Avs on a five-on-three that lasted 1:11.
“It was kind of odd starting a period with a five-on-three,” Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said. “All four of us, (goaltender Mike Smith) included, did a good job limiting their chances.”
“I thought maybe the most critical moment of the game was the five-on-three penalty kill,” Woodcroft said.
“Sometimes those guys don’t get as much credit for laying it on the line, and we’ve really worked hard at it, so it’s nice to see them contribute to a big win.”
Not long after, Kane scored on a wraparound to make it 1-1.
Evan Bouchard showed a deft touch to give the Oilers the lead. His initial shot went wide. The puck flew off the end boards and Bouchard batted it out of the air for his 11th goal of the year. Nichushkin came right back for the Avs as the teams combined for three goals in 1:37.
Still in the second, Oilers defenceman Duncan Keith found Kane to the right of the net for his second of the night.
”It was a great heads-up play by him,” Kane said. “He could have shot it or done a lot of different things, but he made a real cerebral play there and was able to find me on the back side.”
Kane completed the hat trick with 5:40 left in the second, stepping around Avs defenceman Josh Manson before flicking a shot through goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
“We’ve really grown as a team these last couple of months and it’s great to see the success we’re having, because it just increases that buy-in to the mentality that we need to win in the playoffs,” Kane said.
“I’m so happy for Evander,” Woodcroft said.
“He’s a big reason why we’re at where we’re at right now, and to see him have a game like that where we clinch a playoff spot, I think he’s driven to show that type of play in a playoff series.”
Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto scored on a spinning backhand halfway through the third.
“We’re playing hard, and we also got pushed by a good team today,” Woodcroft said.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon scored a late goal with Kuemper pulled for an extra attacker. Edmonton defenceman Kris Russell replied with an empty-netter.
The Oilers are 12-0-1 in their last 13 home games. Smith made 34 saves and has won his last nine starts. Connor McDavid had three assists.
“Going through tough times this year really made this team stick together and grow and understand what it takes to win tight hockey games and get on a roll and get some confidence,” Smith said after the game.
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse left the game in the second period and didn’t return.
”I haven’t even looked at the video of it, I just know he wasn’t available to us,” Woodcroft said. “We’ll have more information in the morning.”
The Oilers (46-26-6) will visit Columbus on Sunday. You can listen to the game live on 630 CHED beginning with The Faceoff Show at 9:30 a.m.. Thee actual game starts at 11 a.m.
–With files from Brenden Escott, 630 CHED