The Edmonton Oilers didn't let it linger.
After a humiliating moment from netminder Mike Smith, where he watched an estimated 132-foot clearance from Rasmus Andersson skip into the back of his net while the Oilers clung to a one-goal lead, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stepped up for his netminder, scoring a go-ahead goal late in Game 4 to lift the Oilers to a 5-3 victory over the Calgary Flames and a 3-1 series stranglehold.
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Nugent-Hopkins' eventual game-winner with under four minutes remaining placed bookends on the scoring at the time. He scored the first goal of the game 21 seconds in after Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom suffered from a critical error of his own.
Evander Kane iced the game into an empty net, scoring his league-leading 12th goal in just his 11th game, while Leon Draisaitl tacked on three assists and Connor McDavid collected two more helpers to add to his prodigious total.
It had been almost exclusively about McDavid and Draisaitl — and it threatened to be about Smith after the Flames erased a three-goal deficit from their own end — but this night belonged to the longest-serving member of the Oilers franchise, and a player who has waited so long to compete in moments like this one.
Almost unthinkably, Nugent-Hopkins is in his 11th season, and has made it past the first round only once in his career after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2011. He had the opportunity this past summer to leave, and to chase an opportunity somewhere else after experiencing organizational failure after organizational failure with the Oilers over many years and across multiple regimes.
He has spoken honestly in the past about the frustration he's felt with the organization as it toggled through coaches and executives, but he took less money to see this process through anyway, hoping winning could happen in Edmonton. Yet, it seemed like the same story was being written with new characters this season when Ken Holland was forced to move from Dave Tippett to Jay Woodcroft with a midseason coaching change.
But in a rare moment in the Nugent-Hopkins era, things managed to stabilize under Woodcroft down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, and now the opportunity to win in Edmonton has suddenly presented itself with the Oilers one victory away from dispatching the Flames and reaching the Western Conference Final.
"A lot of work to do obviously, but to be in this position is huge — it's what you play for," Nugent-Hopkins said in his post-game interview with Sportsnet's Scott Oake.
"To get this opportunity in my 11th year with this team, it's damn exciting."
In addition to Nugent-Hopkins, it was the same cast of characters responsible for the important moments for the Oilers.
Zach Hyman scored his fifth of the series and seventh of the postseason when his shoulder proved to be sturdier than the injured Chris Tanev's in a scramble in the blue paint on the power play.
McDavid and Draisaitl set up the chance with a clever two-man game to create space with the man advantage before Hyman powered through the check of Tanev, who was battling and labouring through an apparent shoulder injury in his first game of the series.
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Kane made it 3-0 before the first period was up, seeing his shot take a deflection off the sprawling Nikita Zadorov before floating over the shoulder of Markstrom. It was another smart pass from Draisaitl that set up the chance for Kane to become the first player in 14 postseasons to score 11 goals in as many games to begin a playoffs.
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Calgary was arguably better in the first period than it was in the second, but fought back into the game in the middle frame with two goals. Elias Lindholm scored the first on one of three Flames power plays, which were dangerous throughout.
Mikael Backlund notched the second just 36 seconds later after Tanev poked the puck ahead on a turnover, allowing him the space to burn Duncan Keith and completely change the complexion of the game.
More than 10 minutes passed in the third period before Smith lost the Andersson clearance in the lights, seats, or in a mess of jerseys, changing a game state that favoured the Oilers from the 21-second mark of the game.
It took five minutes for Nugent-Hopkins to score the winner after a determined forecheck from Hyman and the elevated Kailer Yamamoto set up the longest-tenured Oiler with his chance to knock in a Tyson Barrie rebound.
"I can laugh now, right?" Smith said, clearly relieved, sitting beside Nugent-Hopkins in the postgame presser.
Down 3-1 after three consecutive losses, Calgary's back is clearly against the wall. However, there are some things the Flames can take into Game 5, and potentially beyond, as they look to extend the series as long as possible with the setting shifting back to the Saddledome.
McDavid still scored two points, extending his run of multi-point efforts to seven games, but was held in check for large stretches in the game. Some of that can be attributed to the return of Tanev, but perhaps there are a few strategies the Flames can continue to refine to finally shut off the valve.
The Flames' power play also looked really dangerous, scoring once and setting up several other quality looks, while the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Lindholm was the best on either team in the game.
What did work for the Flames will have to again on Thursday in Game 5 in Calgary with the Flames staring down an early exit.
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