Corey Crawford's 43 saves on 45 shots help eliminate the Oilers in Game 4 of their best-of-five Qualifying Round series
EDMONTON, AB - So it ends.
Facing elimination, the Oilers couldn't find a way past a resilient Chicago Blackhawks team and a dominant goaltender in Corey Crawford, who made 43 saves on 45 shots in a 3-2 victory to eliminate the Oilers in Game 4 of their best-of-five Qualifying Round series on Friday.
Connor McDavid had two assists and both Josh Archibald and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals, while Mikko Koskinen made 26 of 29 shots in defeat.
The Oilers bounced to an early lead 45 seconds into the game, but couldn't carry the intensity and desperation through the full 60 minutes in a must-win scenario against a 'Hawks side ripe with playoff experience and talent.
"I think you can't tell me that they out-battled us or we had way more opportunities than them, but we made some critical mistakes at the wrong time and they went in the back of our net," Head Coach Dave Tippett said post-game.
"It's frustrating because we expected better."
Another quick start from the Oilers and incredible vision from McDavid gifted the Blue & Orange the lead inside the first minute of the contest. The captain delivered the perfect cross-ice pass to be one-timed home by Archibald, who was elevated to the top line alongside McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins with Tyler Ennis out of the lineup.
It was Edmonton's third game of the series with a goal in the opening five minutes and served as some much-needed secondary scoring after the trio of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins accounted for nine of the club's first 13 goals.
But the Oilers would register only one shot in their next 9:17 as the Blackhawks took control, tying the game with a Brandon Saad wrap-around before Matthew Highmore made another deft deflection 2:40 later for the 2-1 lead after tying Game 3 in the final frame in similar fashion.
With a power-play to start the second period, Nugent-Hopkins was in the right spot to bury the equalizer and his second of the series into an open cage as the man advantage expired.
Despite their tally, the Oilers PP was 0-for-4 with the man advantage after 40 minutes, even after being given a lengthy five-minute opportunity when Alex DeBrincat was assessed a major for boarding Ethan Bear.
Urgency from the Oilers bench ramped up with their playoff lives on the line with eight of 10 shots to begin the final period. Andreas Athanasiou came inches away from the go-ahead goal with a shot on a bobbling puck that struck the crossbar.
Regrettably, it took one opportunity for the 'Hawks to break the run of play.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews won a puck battle down low and poked a loose puck to Dominik Kubalik, who was left free to place his shot over the right shoulder of Koskinen for the decisive goal that left the Oilers with just over half a period to keep their season going.
"Just too many little mistakes that just can't happen at this time of year," Draisaitl said. "We never really got our A-game going. Without that, this league's too good."
It proved costly, with Crawford standing tall the rest of the way and late too many men call compounding the challenge in the final two minutes for the Oilers despite a last-second opportunity from Darnell Nurse whistling just wide.
"It shouldn't matter who you're playing against at this time of the year, because we had the opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup," Nurse said. "We definitely lacked that. It's disappointing for everyone."