CALGARY — Every playoff team talks a good game about bouncing back. About taking the punch, and then picking themselves back up and winning the next round.
Talk, however, is cheap.
You’ve got to walk into Los Angeles and win a must-win Game 6, before anybody — including those inside your own group — can truly believe you have it inside of you.
You’ve got to shut a team down at home to win a Game 7, and when the next round starts with a messy 9-6 loss, you can’t just tell everyone that you’re going to grab hold of the series and take it back home tied at one apiece.
You’ve got to walk the walk, like the Edmonton Oilers did on Friday night in Cowtown.
“It’s an emotional roller-coaster. You’ve got to try to stay off of it as much as you can,” explained Zach Hyman, whose shorthanded goal midway through the third period stood up as the winner in a stunning 5-3 Game 2 victory over the Calgary Flames. “It’s hockey, and some nights bounces are going to go your way and some nights they’re not. You’ve got to battle through, even tonight.”
Edmonton scored five and had two goals called back, while the Flames had a sketchy disallowed goal themselves.
But in a series where everyone is wondering when Oilers goalie Mike Smith will fold his tent, Edmonton has now pumped 11 pucks past Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom (13 if you count the two that were called back). That’s a grand total of 18 in their past three meetings, going back to that 9-5 debacle in March.
Say what you want about the goaltending advantage that exists here, Edmonton has Markstrom’s number. He has been average at best in this series.
Leon Draisaitl banged in a rebound on a Connor McDavid net drive that got called back for goaltender interference. So McDavid stayed out there, took a nifty pass from on a stellar night from Duncan Keith, and deked Markstrom out of his shorts, just 32 seconds after the video review.
Was he especially hungry after the disallowed goal?
“I’m always hungry,” said McDavid, whose 20 points in nine playoff games make him the fastest to 20 since Mario Lemieux in 1992 (9-13-22).
“It’s like it didn’t get called back (at all),” said Hyman, who marvelled once again at a game in which McDavid took 19,289 Saddledome fans out of their seats three or four times.
“He’s taking his game to another level, and that’s hard to do,” said Hyman. “But he’s pushing his own limits. That’s what special players do. He’s leading our team in every aspect. Last game, I think he had the most hits on our team. So, he’s doing it all. He’s a huge reason why we’re here.”
McDavid played 21:30 and had two points. It seemed like he played 35 minutes.
He was everywhere.
But the fact his numbers weren’t obscene, and his team won a huge game in a tough building, speaks to the fact this isn’t a one-man team anymore — even if they’d never be where they are without that one man.
“Two goals get called back for us, two bounces didn’t go our way, but we stuck with it. We battled,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve had kind of a roller-coaster season where our backs have been against the wall and our ability to push back has been second to none — on any team I’ve been on. It’s just that response factor.
“It’s led by Connor, and the whole group responds.”
Keith had a goal and two assists, on a fabulously subtle night, doing exactly what he was brought in here to do last summer. It was moments like these when the wily veteran was supposed to help in ways both obvious and unquantifiable, and on Friday he delivered both in spades.
“He is just unfazed,” said Hyman. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, and that’s a guy who was brought in to calm the group in times that things aren’t going well. He’s a big voice in the locker-room in settling us down, and stepping up today with a huge goal and just making plays, being strong defensively. … He’s got a lot to give.”
Leon Draisaitl, playing on an ankle that has him spending more time on the trainer’s table than the practice ice, had a goal, two assists and one goal called back. He iced it with a breakaway goal, summoning whatever his ankle could give him to pull away from a chasing Flame and sift one past Markstrom, just 2:22 after Hyman had done the same thing.
Two nights after Calgary had pulled away from the Oilers in the third period, Edmonton turned the tables, nabbing home-ice advantage in what has become a best-of-five series.
“Our competition level was excellent. Our execution level coming out of our own end was very good. We found a way to win the special-teams battle. We scored a power-play goal. We scored a shorthanded goal,” said Woodcroft, ticking off all the boxes.
“We found a way in a tough environment to score seven goals, on the road in a tough building. Two of them got called back, but we found a way to score seven and we cleaned up a lot of things defensively.
“It’s a good sign for our team as we move forward.”
Forward to Rogers Place, with a team that doesn’t need much more convincing.
They can take a punch, this hockey team.
They’ve proven that much, this far.