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Knoblauch's challenge swings momentum in Edmonton's Game 6 final win

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EDMONTON — It seemed risky, but Edmonton Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch was certain Aleksander Barkov's goal was offside Friday.

Knoblauch won a tide-turning coach's challenge in the second period of Edmonton's 5-1 win over the visiting Panthers to help send the Stanley Cup final to a Game 7 in Florida.

Adam Henrique had just sent Rogers Place into paroxysms of joy by scoring Edmonton's second goal when Barkov buried a loose puck seconds later.

Halving the Oilers' lead took the wind out the arena, but Knoblauch, with the support of his video coaches, challenged and won to maintain the two-goal lead, take momentum back and restore the fans' good mood.

"For us, it was a big moment in the game," Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said.

Replays showed the puck on the blue line and still on the stick of Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe as Sam Reinhart's skate entered the zone.

It seemed razor-thin, but Knoblauch didn't hesitate. With the backing of video coaches Noah Segall and Mike Fanelli, who communicated with assistant coach Mark Stuart, Edmonton's head coach launched a challenge.

"I actually didn't think it was that close," Knoblauch said. "We were going to call it right away. We had a little more time to review it. The only hesitation was maybe there wasn't the right video. In my mind, it was definitely offside, but I guess you never know.

"In the second period when they score on the offside play, make it 2-1 instead of 2-0, that's a time that could change the flow of the game."

Panthers head coach Paul Maurice thought the offside was a lot less obvious than Knoblauch did.

"There was no way I thought you could conclusively say that was offside," Maurice said.

"I just know that when I would have had to have challenged that based on what I saw, I would not have challenged.

"I'm not saying it's not offside. We'll get still frames. We bring in the CIA, we'll figure it out. But in the 30 seconds that I would have made that call I would not have challenged."

Knoblauch assumed his first head coaching job in the NHL in November when the Oilers were 3-9-1 and Jay Woodcroft was fired.

The 45-year-old from Imperial, Sask., righted the Oilers' ship and guided them to the Stanley Cup final with some deft calls.

When goaltender Stuart Skinner struggled during the second round against Vancouver, Knoblauch sat his starter for Calvin Pickard in Games 4 and 5, but returned Skinner to the net for Game 6 and 7 wins.

Knoblauch's confidence Friday to overturn a Panthers' goal at a delicate moment in Game 6 could become part of 2024 Stanley Cup final lore.

"Knobber has had the right touch," Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said Friday. "He knows what he's doing. He seems to make the right decisions a lot more often than not. That was obviously a big one."

His teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins agreed.

"The offside call, it's a nice break to go our way for sure," he said. "It was very close, but the one angle we saw, it was definitely still touching the blue when his skate was over.

"It still makes you nervous, whether they're seeing it, if it's conclusive, but we had a good feel about that one. He's got to make the call. It's probably stressful to make that call at that time of game, but he made the right decision."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.