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‘You’re always believing’: Journeyman Calvin Pickard leads Oilers to victory in Game 4


EDMONTON — Calvin Pickard was recounting a journeyman’s journey, his ‘Have Pads Will Travel’ trek that has criss-crossed the creases of North American pro hockey.

“I get drafted in Colorado, play there for a couple of years. You think you’re going to be on the same team your whole career,” he began. “Then — 10 teams later — you’re here.”

Ten teams later?

Pickard didn’t crack a smile when he delivered that line. Evan Bouchard, seated next to him on the podium, buried his face in his chest, trying to hide his smile.

“It’s been a great journey,” Pickard attested. “You know … I don’t regret any of it. I’m just grateful for this opportunity. I’ll just ride it out.”

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From Bakersfield to San Antonio, from Grand Rapids to Tucson, Pickard — a second-round pick whose older brother Chet was a goalie drafted in Round 1 by Nashville, but never got an NHL game — even played a game for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’s been everywhere, man, except here: a National Hockley League playoff game, his team on the ropes, and a throaty 18,347 fans, some of them paying the same amount for a Game 4 seat as Pickard made in a month with the Lake Erie Monsters.

In a series that has yet to see injured Vancouver No. 1 Thatcher Demko — in which the Oilers starter Stuart Skinner played his way to a ball cap and a spot on the bench — the 32-year-old Pickard won the first playoff start of his NHL career, a full 14 years after he was drafted.

Pickard took a shutout through 46 minutes, watched his lead disintegrate in the final 100 seconds, then basked in the glory of a 28-save victory when Bouchard zipped home the winner with 39 seconds left in the third period.

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For Edmonton, it was a 3-2 win that evens this series at two apiece. But to Pickard, whose folks came in from Winnipeg to bear witness, it was like golfing your whole life and finally capturing that elusive ace at age 80.

Did he ever think that perhaps he’d never get an NHL playoff game? Had he given up on the dream?

“That’s a legitimate question. You never know,” he said. “I’m lucky to have signed with Edmonton, a really good team.

“You’re always believing. You’re hoping. But now that it’s finally here, it’s exciting.”

Exciting?

Welcome to an all-Canadian Round 2 series that hasn’t come close to living up to its billing — in a good way.

The betting houses had the Oilers as big favourites, and with Demko out of the picture, many have been waiting for the Oilers offence to ring up rookie Arturs Silovs for five or six goals in a game.

Oh boy, was that misguided.

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The teams are tied 14-14 in goals through four games and the Canucks haven’t trailed yet, winning Games 1 and 3. If there’s an edge, it comes in shots on goal per game (31 to 20.5) that favours Edmonton, and the Oilers’ power play (50 per cent) over Vancouver’s (25 per cent).

For both games in Edmonton — and the third period of Game 2 — the Oilers have had more of the game. More shots, more good chances, more pressure, more possession…

Their track record tells you it’s a matter of time until they strike for five or six in a game.

“I think our game is good — and I think we’ve got another gear,” said Leon Draisaitl, after another two-point night thrust him into the playoff leads with 20 points. “In terms of offence, there’s another gear, another step for us.”

On a night when Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch got away from playing Draisaitl and Connor McDavid into the ground, rolling four lines more than any other game this series, the big horse Draisaitl still produced more offence than anyone else on the rink.

He scored from his office on the power play, and after Dakota Joshua tied the game at 18:19 of the third period, Draisaitl’s line went to work on averting overtime.

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Evander Kane started the shift with a hit that separated the puck from a Canucks defender. Mattias Ekholm deftly kept a puck in at the line, and eventually, Kane fed Draisaitl in Wayne Gretzky’s old office behind the Canuck net.

Draisaitl sifted a pass through a maze of players to Bouchard at the top of the umbrella, and his wrist shot picked the top corner, a brilliant pass and a buxom goal, a true gut punch for the Canucks.

“When things like that (blown lead) happen, it’s a bit of a shock. Sometimes you can get on your heels a little bit. You know, ‘Let’s get this into overtime,’” Draisaitl said. “But (Kane) goes in, forechecks hard. That goal was all Kaner.”

Well, it was also Bouchard’s second game-winner of the series thus far.

“No moment is too big for him,” said Ekholm of his usual defence partner. “It was kind of like, when they scored (Ekholm thought), ‘We’ve played too well to lose this game.’ At least that’s what I was feeling out there.

“We’re going to get it. Whether it’s now or in overtime.”

It’s a six-game series now, and likely seven.

Hold on to your tuques, Canada. This one might be better than we thought.

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