EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have chased these Stanley Cup Playoffs for some time now, losing seven consecutive series-opening games.
But in three of the last four series — not counting this bit of unfinished business against the Vegas Golden Knights — Edmonton has charged back to win and move on in the playoffs. Not good at having a consistent killer instinct, but excellent at finding their game in desperate situations, what exactly does this all say about a supposed Stanley Cup contender?
Today, after a soft, sloppy 5-1 loss in Game 3 — the Oilers were “red rotten,” as former coach Todd McLellan used to say — we wonder what to think of a team that seems to lose its game almost as often as it finds it.
“We’ve bounced back before,” stated Connor McDavid. “It’s a big game for us (Game 4), I understand that. And I expect that sense of urgency to go up. I’d expect our best game for sure.”
“We have experience now, going through situations similar to this,” added Darnell Nurse. “It’s a test for us to come out and work the right way in Game 4.
“We’ll break it all down, hold ourselves accountable and give ourselves a standard that we need to play to.”
If you want to blame someone for a game in which the Golden Knights owned the net front in Edmonton’s zone, the primary culprits came dressed in black, yellow and red. Secondarily, the guys in blue didn’t have what it took to push back on Vegas’ pushback.
So here you have a team that doesn’t handle prosperity so well, tending to fall behind early on in series. But the Oilers’ history is that they win more than they lose from Game 3 on.
Now, Oilers fan, you could have the opposite.
Which team would you rather have?
“We know as a group that we have much better. Our (Game 4) response has to be big,” Nurse declared. “You come into this series expecting it to be a long one, (and that) this is a very good team on the on the other side. We’re a good team ourselves and have a lot of faith and confidence in in our game.
“We needed to bring it each and every night, and we haven’t done that consistently enough in the first three.”
An old hockey friend told me once, “Remember, the other team is tryin’ too.”
And at this time of year, when the opponent is a team you chased all season long but just could not manage to catch in the Pacific Division standings, the opponent is formidable.
The Los Angeles Kings were good. The Vegas Golden Knights are better.
But McDavid insists, the Oilers’ ‘A’ game isn’t far away.
“Forty-eight hours ago (in Game 2), we played a game that we really liked. Forty-eight hours later, we’re here talking about not a very good one,” he said. “So our game is it’s not gone. It’s not far. We need out best in Game 4.”
This is the how playoffs work, right?
Vegas stakes a claim in Game 1, Edmonton fires back in Game 2, and we all came north wondering if Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy could coach his way through what looked like a potential mismatch in the making.
But what the Golden Knights were talking about is how they entered Game 3 leading the five-on-five series scoring by a 6-3 count. Now that count sits at 11-4, and the ball is in the court of an Oilers team that can’t count on the Golden Knights taking three or four penalties every game.
Could the officials have made a couple of more calls in Edmonton’s favour Monday? Sure, they could have.
Did the Oilers work hard enough to force the calls that allows their power play to dictate games? Nope — not even close.
You can’t stand around waiting for the call that puts your 56-per-cent power play on the ice. Not when the refs didn’t give Edmonton its first full power play until the 15:01 mark of the third period.
“Five-on-five is the majority of the game,” McDavid said. “Obviously, that area has got to improve.”
That’s where it will start in Game 4 for Edmonton — skating, maintaining possession, and forcing Vegas into positions where they commit an infraction. Remember power plays are supposed to augment your even-strength play. Not replace it.
“We’re going to dig into the things that didn’t go right (in Game 3), and we’re going to work to correct them,” promised head coach Jay Woodcroft. “Part of that is honest self-assessment, and then the ability to give your team (a game plan) that they can sink their teeth into or hang their hat on.
“In the end, we know what we showed (in Game 3) isn’t the recipe, wasn’t good enough. We own that, and we’re going to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
For at least a couple games, anyhow.