EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers figured that once they had killed off the litany of penalties they had taken in Game 3 of their Qualifying Round series, they were free and clear from the consequences.
But the hockey Gods, they have long memories.
In the end, a game the Oilers led 3-2 with six minutes to play turned into a 4-3 regulation loss, as two deflected pucks — one by the Chicago Blackhawks‘ Matthew Highmore, and the game-winner by Edmonton’s Ethan Bear — found twine behind Mikko Koskinen.
They belatedly gave the game-winner to Jonathan Toews. Still, it was the kind of fluky bounce that could go either way, and went against the Oilers on this night.
“You are tempting fate when you take penalties, especially when your penalty killers (Josh Archibald and Kailer Yamamoto) are taking them,” said head coach Dave Tippett, who watched those two players take two minors apiece in the game’s first half. “Deflections, sometimes they go wide or hit the goalie. This time they found their way in.”
This was the definition of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat for Chicago. For the Oilers, they now have to win games on Friday and Saturday, or watch the rest of the National Hockey League playoffs play out in Edmonton with the Oilers on the outside of the bubble looking in.
“We all know the situation that we’re in here right now,” said Leon Draisaitl, who had a pair of goals. “We’ve got to prepare for a back to back. Whatever it takes to win two games in a row.”
In Game 1 of this series, the Blackhawks played well and Edmonton did not. In Game 2 the roles were reversed.
In Game 3 neither team played great, with the Blackhawks going one-for-six on the powerplay and scoring two fairly lucky goals on the night, both credited to Toews. Edmonton tempted fate with undisciplined play, and executed poorly — particularly when it came to zone exits. Perhaps the Blackhawks’ forecheck deserves the credit, but in the end it was a failed attempt to get a puck out that set up Connor Murphy’s point shot, which ramped off of Bear’s stick, then off of Toews for the game-winner with 1:16 to play.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but we took over the first period after they got one,” said Connor McDavid, who also scored. “Then, far too many penalties. The refs are calling lots of stuff, we know that. We have to be more disciplined.”
Still, Edmonton led by a goal with six minutes to play, and never gave up a Grade A scoring chance on either of the Hawks two late goals.
“The penalty kill did a great job keeping us in it,” McDavid said. “We got back in the game, in control of the game. Then two shots from the point ended up in the net.”
This morning, the two No. 12 seeds — Montreal and Chicago — both hold 2-1 series leads over No. 5 seeds Pittsburgh and Edmonton, setting up a scenario that could see both the Penguins and Oilers in the running to nab presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafreniere.
How apoplectic would the hockey world be if Lafreniere were to line up on McDavid’s wing next season? Or Sidney Crosby’s?
Well, that’s a hot topic for another day.
This morning in Edmonton they’ll still be talking about the heartbreaking loss on Wednesday, as the Oilers couldn’t even manage to nurse the game into OT.
“I don’t know if heartbreak is the word,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “It’s a long series. There’s still two games to be played.
“We battled, put ourselves in position for a game we could have won,” he continued. “Some bounces go in, some bounces go the other way. We just have to respond.”
The Oilers likely lost Draisaitl’s left-winger, Tyler Ennis, when he limped off without putting any weight on his right leg after a big hit by Kirby Dach. The Oilers wanted a penalty called on the play, but it appeared Ennis turned his back to Dach right before the hit. Somehow, he caught his knee awkwardly, it seemed.
Losing Ennis caused Tippett to juggle his forwards somewhat, but the effect to the rhythm of the lines was minimal compared to all the penalties his team took.
“That’s exactly what I told our team after the second period,” Tippett said. “You isolate a lot of people and your penalty-killers are getting lots of work, then you try to get other people involved after a penalty ends. It’s not ideal. I’ve watched all the penalties. Some I thought were good, some I thought were poor penalties called.”
Adam Larsson was deemed unfit to play before the game. Kris Russell, who has been one of Edmonton’s best defencemen in this series, stepped up to play next to Oscar Klefbom, while Caleb Jones saw action on the third pairing.
It’s do or die now for the Oilers. A pretty good season suddenly on the brink of ending, before the true playoffs even begin.