“I think you’ll see low-scoring nights and maybe some nights there’s a couple more goals, but we expect it to be a pretty tight-checking series.”
That’s what Connor McDavid predicted before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs edition of the Battle of Alberta and, well, you could say Game 1 had “a couple more goals” – 15 in total, to be exact – as it was played at a frenetic pace with high levels of intensity and mayhem. The result was somewhat reminiscent of Calgary’s 9-5 win in late March that McDavid referred to as a “gong show.”
Wednesday’s final score was 9-6 and a key reason was Edmonton’s poor start.
It can’t be stated enough that McDavid was not part of the problem for the Oilers. The superstar was nearly part of the solution, as he battled back with his fifth goal of the playoffs and added three helpers during his team’s comeback attempt.
McDavid has 18 points through eight post-season appearances this year.
“He’s a great player. He’s the best player in the league. He was the best player on the ice (Wednesday). Not even close,” Calgary bench boss Darryl Sutter said of No. 97. “So, at the end of the series if Connor McDavid gets four points a game, have a good next series, Connor.”
WILL KANE-TKACHUK INTENSITY CARRY OVER TO GAME 2?
Matthew Tkachuk and Evander Kane were at the centre of several post-whistle scrums, which was not surprising in the slightest. The two wingers were sent to the box simultaneously during a March regular-season encounter, both receiving slashing minors for hacking at one another before the start of a period.
The physical play and jawing were present in Game 1, too, and tensions rose throughout a heated third period. Tkachuk, during a shoving exchange, at one point could be seen mouthing to Kane, “You want some money? You need some money?” in a presumed reference to Kane filing for bankruptcy in early 2021.
Tkachuk even rubbed his fingers together like he was David Brent from The Office (the original The Office, people!) in an attempt to rile up his opponent.
They continued jawing at one another in the penalty box with Tkachuk at one point repeating, “You poor bastard,” to Kane.
Tkachuk returned to the ice before Kane did – even though the two went into the penalty box at the same time – and he scored moments later leading to some confusion.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was among those who correctly pointed out on social media that Rule 16.2 in the official NHL Rulebook explains why Tkachuk was allowed to exit the penalty box before his teammate Oliver Kylington and Kane.
Tkachuk later slid home an empty-netter to seal the deal for his team, completing his first playoff hat trick. The 24-year-old now has 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in five regular- and post-season games against the Oilers in 2021-22.
Kane, who recorded his first career playoff hat trick in the opening round and has seven goals so far these playoffs, has been largely stymied in his three games against the Flames this year, with zero points, four PIMs a minus-5 plus/minus and only six shots on goal.
WILL OILERS BE AWAKE AT PUCK-DROP?
The Oilers were down 3-0 before the midway point of the first period. That deficit ended up being the eventual difference and the Oilers know full well they’ll have to be far sharper than that early in Game 2.
“We fought back and made it a game, but we can’t feel good about that in any way because we scored six goals in the game and found a way to not win it,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft told reporters after the second consecutive loss to Calgary in which his team allowed nine goals against.
Edmonton has been an effective first-period team, outscoring opponents 87-81 during the opening 20 minutes in the regular season, but Calgary was better, notching 93 first-period goals and allowing a league-low 52.
Calgary is 3-0-0 against Edmonton in games at the Saddledome this season, with a combined scoring edge of 21-12.
HOW MANY GOALS AND PENALTY MINUTES THIS TIME?
Game 1 was a busy night for the officials filling out the game sheet. Penalty boxes were crowded, with calls being made right up until the final buzzer, and there was a goal scored once every four minutes on average.
What can fans expect in Game 2? Let this compilation video below serve as a reminder to what is possible when these teams meet.
HOW CAN RANGERS IMPROVE ON ‘BEST GAME OF THE YEAR’?
The Battle of Alberta isn’t Friday’s only action. The New York Rangers will attempt to rebound from a 1-0 series deficit again after dropping a second straight Game 1 in overtime.
The Carolina Hurricanes relied on a strong outing from Antti Raanta and a boost of energy in the third period to earn a come-from-behind victory.
New York had a complete effort throughout the opening 40 minutes. Rangers coach Gerard Gallant even said, “The first two periods was perfect hockey for us,” and later added “I thought it was our best game of the year, I really did.”
If your “best game of the year” didn’t result in a win, though, then where do you go from there?
The Rangers must figure out how to solve Raanta, or else they’ll soon be booking tee times for early June. They didn’t face the Finnish netminder at all this season, with Frederik Andersen making three starts against the Blue Shirts and rookie Pyotr Kochetkov one.
Raanta had played his former team only once in his career, allowing only one goal in a shootout loss back in 2018 when he was with the Coyotes.
The Rangers can continue looking at their talented youth to create offence. Alexis Lafreniere has five points in his past six games and has been coming on strong. The 2020 first-overall pick became the fourth player aged 20 or younger in Rangers history to register five or more points in a single post-season. Look for Lafreniere to be a catalyst Friday.