Oilers hoping Stuart Skinner continues impressive run of late series heroics

For all the criticism Stuart Skinner has received at times during these playoffs, he's shown an ability to stand tall when the pressure is at its highest.
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Game Five / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

We would never go as far as to label Stuart Skinner as being polarising. After all, he's one of the most likeable players on the Edmonton Oilers roster, both within the organisation and among the fan base.

However, this doesn't change the reality that Skinner has proved to be extremely frustrating at times. He's had moments when he looks like he shouldn't even be the Oilers' backup, and other periods when he comes across as being among the very best goalies in the entire NHL.

These contrasting perspectives have been amplified during this year's playoff run, which an equal measuring of shocking performances and sublime displays. However, what can't be disputed, is that when the chips are down, the stakes are highest -- or whatever other poker analogy you want to use -- Skinner rises to the occasion big time.

Skinner stands tall when the series is on the line

Consider that in the 25-year-old's nine starts in games 4-7 of this season's playoffs, he has a phenomenal 9-0 record. And for anyone thinks he's relied on the Oilers' prolific offense, consider that he has a tremendous .938 save percentage and 1.56 Goals Against Average (GAA) in those nine games.

In case this makes some people question why there has been so much criticism of Skinner -- of which we won't deny we contributed towards -- consider that he has a 4-8 record in games 1-3 of this season's playoffs. And in those 12 games, he produced a poor .879 save percentage and 3.28 GAA.

As much as the likes of Connor McDavid, Evan Bouchard and Leon Draisaitl have led the offensive charge during these playoffs, you still need your goalie to step up. And Skinner has undoubtedly stood tall when it matters most for the Oilers.

Two saves which changed the complexion of this Stanley Cup Final

There have been two prime examples of this, one in each of games four and five, with both coming at crucial moments which could have changed the course and outcome of those contests. Each time, Skinner came through with outstanding saves worthy of the Stanley Cup Final stage.

The first was in the 8-1 rout, when the Panthers had just cut the lead to 2-1 in the first period. The visitors broke through with a two-on-one rush barely a minute later, but Skinner effectively 'stole' a goal from Carter Verhaeghe and the Oilers never looked back.

The other standout moment came during the opening moments of game five back in Florida, when the Panthers came out firing as you would expect from the home team. However, Skinner made some timely stops, particularly one from Aarib Ekblad that on any other day would have been a goal, but instead the score remained at 0-0.

Interestingly, the Panthers' Sergei Bobrovsky has had almost the opposite issue to Skinner, with him looking excellent early in series and not so much later on. In this year's playoffs, Bobrovsky has a 9-3 record and .915 save percentage in games 1-3, compared to a 6-4 record (admittedly still not a disaster) and .894 save percentage in games 4-7.

Regardless of what this means for the remainder of this Stanley Cup Final, Skinner is taking nothing for granted and knows he and his teammates have to remain locked in on the task at hand. Speaking to the media after the 5-3 win in game five, he said: "Being able to get these two wins is obviously crucial, (but) you know we've got another one to get back in Edmonton, so that's our main focus right now. Even though we were able to win tonight and play a pretty good game, we've got to still find a way to elevate our game."

dark. Next. Time for Leon Draisaitl to get his act together for the Oilers. Time for Leon Draisaitl to get his act together for the Oilers

There are of course no guarantees, but if there's one player capable of elevating his game, it's been Skinner. Now, Oilers fans have to just hope he can continue his superior form in late series games, because if he does, there's every chance chance the Stanley Cup is finally headed back to Edmonton for the first time since 1990.

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