The Oilers pounded Nashville with five goals in the third period, breaking open a 3-3 tie to bulldoze the Predators 8-3. It was Muscle Beach, sand-in-your-face stuff by the Oilers and their two Hart Trophy favourites, as Leon Draisaitl (four goals and an assist) and Connor McDavid (1-4-5) had 10 points — six in the third period.
This was like John Belushi smashing the guitar in Animal House, as the Oilers penned a hurtin’ song on Nashville’s playoff chances.
Observed Nashville head coach John Hynes: “We got punched in the face pretty good tonight.”
It should be said, Pekka Rinne wasn’t very good in the Predators’ goal, allowing eight goals for the first time in a career that began as Nashville’s eighth-round draft pick back in 2004. A four-time Vezina finalist and the winningest Finnish goaltender in NHL history, the soul of this club was finally yanked with the score 8-3 and 10 minutes to play.
“It was enough,” Hynes said.
“Hate it,” spat Nashville defenceman Roman Josi. “What we did in the third, we just left him out to dry. It’s just not good enough from us. We’ve got to be so much better. You hate it for (Rinne), for sure.”
The Oilers watched the Calgary Flames give up a goal with 0.1 seconds left in this building last week, then lose the extra point in overtime. And they saw the Vancouver Canucks cough up a 3-1 lead with 8:00 to play against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, tossing away two points in a king-sized tank job.
So, as Edmonton walked out of the dressing room tied 3-3 — on a night when none of the teams it’s battling out West were playing — it was a defining moment.
Five goals in 5:13 defined things, all right. It defined the Oilers, a team that will have James Neal and Oscar Klefbom back by week’s end, as a club that might be better than we thought.
“It’s impressive,” said Draisaitl, after his second five-point night of the season. “All four lines … we probably could have scored a few more, too. Those nights, you don’t score five goals in every period. I wouldn’t get used to it.”
Edmonton sweeps the season series with Nashville 3-0, an incremental sign of where this team has come after years of playing doormat to the Preds. The worm is turning out West — this Oilers team is deep and good, and will take a serious run at the Vegas Golden Knights for the Pacific title, who they trail by two with a game in hand. They also host the Golden Knights at Rogers Place twice more this season.
This was another tour de force by the Hart favourite Draisaitl, with McDavid painting around the edges as he leap-frogged both Artemi Panarin and David Pastrnak into second spot in the NHL scoring race. McDavid has 32-64-94, but didn’t gain an inch on Draisaitl, who beefed up his totals to 43-64-107.
With 14 games to play, suddenly Draisaitl looks good for his second 50-goal, 100-point campaign. He was money on a night when Edmonton scored eight, but went just one-for-one on their league-leading power play.
“If you look at he and McDavid tonight, you go into the third period, game on the line,” began Hynes. “There’s just a different level. Those guys are relentless.
“They have an ability,” he continued, “when big plays need to be made, when the game’s on the line, these guys just rise to a different level. Their compete level, when things are hot and when the game matters? That’s what separates those two guys.”
In a battle of two 37-year-old goalies, Mike Smith was by far the better ‘tendy, running his record in 2020 to 12-1-4. Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had three helpers, while Kailer Yamamoto had 1-1-2 in his return. Kris Russell blocked a shot, left the game, and will be examined Tuesday, with Edmonton playing the Dallas Stars that evening in the Big D.
“Yamo comes in and he just balances out the whole lineup,” said McDavid, who had beaten Nashville once in 12 tries in his entire career before this season. He downplayed the turnabout. “We’re a little bit better, and they’re still a solid team. But we have a better group than we did in previous years, that’s for sure.”