What a choke job.
Up 4-1 with eight minutes to play in the most crucial game of their season, the Edmonton Oilers folded up like a cheap tent Sunday night, losing 5-4 in overtime.
Roll over? That doesn’t begin to describe the sheer panic that gripped this roster late in Game 3, as it became clear success might be theirs. The Oilers shifted nervously from control to submission so fast Sunday night, it left you wondering if everything we saw from this team this season was some kind of a cruel mirage.
“It’s disappointing. Disappointing, because we haven’t been that team all year,” said beleaguered head coach Dave Tippett, whose promising season has ended in embarrassing disaster. “Disappointing that we did some of the things we did tonight.”
This was the Miracle on Manchester, all packed into eight minutes. It was Anaheim, circa 2017.
An Oilers team that had finally figured out the troublesome Winnipeg Jets — finding space for their superstars, and solving Connor Hellebuyck four times in Game 3 where they’d scored just once in Games 1 and 2 — simply gave it all away with a lack of will, courage and gamesmanship.
“There’s not a whole lot to say. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is pointless in this series.
Said Leon Draisaitl, who was marvellous for 52 minutes: “Maybe we panicked a little bit.”
This was, as Philadelphia coach Terry Murray once said so famously, “A choking situation.” Edmonton took full advantage, limping into overtime where Nikolai Ehlers effectively ended their season.
Game 4 goes Monday, with the Jets already thinking ahead to Round 2. It would be a miracle if an Oilers team that suffered this level of gut punch competed for victory on Monday.
Edmonton is cooked, a promising season boiled down to something Oilers fans have had more than enough of in the past 25 years:
“Winning is hard,” began Tippett, “and there are painful lessons that you need to learn to win. We were pretty good at it all year, but tonight we learned some hard lessons on what not to do to win in the playoffs.
“The two power-play goals were both critical mistakes by us. The (Josh) Archibald penalty was just a poor penalty to take. Those are hard lessons to learn,” said the coach.
Rather than call a timeout after the Jets made it 4-3 with their second goal in less than three minutes, Tippett trusted his top line to play one more shift that would get them to a TV timeout and a three-minute break.
“Next whistle was a TV timeout,” he said. “We went to that line. They’re reliable guys.”
He trusted his best guys. His big guys.
And they choked.
He played the heck out of Archibald, the trusty, fourth-line penalty killer who has stirred the pot nicely for this team. But Archibald low-bridged Logan Stanley with a needless, selfish hit that kicked the hornet nest and set the table for the Jets power-play goal that started the landslide.
It was a dumb, inexperienced play from a veteran player. An individual who knows better made a selfish, rookie mistake that cost his team dearly.
He choked. Now, Archibald will have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
“Momentum is a huge factor in a playoff game,” said Tippett, “and the Archibald penalty was a huge turning point in the game.”
Nobody thinks that this Oilers roster is complete, that they are ready to challenge for a Stanley Cup. If GM Ken Holland has a strong summer, we can have that conversation a year from now. Maybe then they’ll be legit contenders, or so we thought.
Now, after watching this series, there are further questions to be answered. How does a game of this magnitude get away?
In that fashion?
Tippett was asked if he is worried about what this performance says about his team.
“I’ll be worried if we don’t take the lessons that we learned tonight and use them accordingly,” he replied. “We did enough good things in this game to win. We gave a game away. Now, we see how we respond.”
Game 4 goes Monday.
“We can’t roll over here,” said Nugent-Hopkins.
Ryan. You already did.