The Edmonton Oilers advance to the second round after a hard fought six-game series versus the Los Angeles Kings. Prior to the series, the Oilers were favourites to win; however, at one point they were down three goals with 40 minutes left in Game 4 and looking at potentially going down 3–1 in the series. The Oilers were also arguably close to sweeping the Kings had they killed the 16 seconds left in Game 1 and maintained their composure in Game 3. In the end they don’t ask how but rather how many and the Oilers get the four wins needed to move on along with some lessons learned and confidence gained.
Bouchard and Draisaitl leading the way
The Game 1 story should have been about Evan Bouchard as he appeared to be shot out of canon and was nothing less than dazzling all game. He scored a power play goal, had an end-to-end rush with a toe drag off the post, pulled off a spin-o-rama, and ended up hitting another post. Bouchard would end the series leading all NHL defencemen with ten points (two goals and eight assists), and ties an NHL record for most power play points in a series by a dman.
Instead the Kings comeback from two goals down in the third to tie it six-on-four with 16 seconds left and win it after a poor play by Vincent Desharnais led to a penalty. It is funny how the intensity of playoffs can erase some good habits that were built up during the hot streak down the stretch. While the Oilers had the early lead, give credit to the Kings who would not go away and took advantage on the power play. According to naturalstattrick.com, Edmonton dominated the advanced stats on 5v5 (CF 61.82%, xGF 64.88%, SCF 61.67%, HDCF 65.38%) but would end up losing.
The other story that gets lost is Leon Draisaitl who became the third fastest in NHL history to reach 60 career playoff points—only behind The Great One and Super Mario, an unbelievable accomplishment.
Getting back on track
Game 2 would see the Oilers return to their regular season form and win rather convincingly. They took the lead early and while L.A. did tie the game, the Oilers would score early in the third and cap the game with an empty netter. The Oilers would again post the better 5v5 advanced stats with CF 52.38, xGF% 62.88, SCF% 56.00, and HDCF% 60.00. The special teams were perfect going 4/4 on the penalty kill and 100% on the power play.
After the game, Jay Woodcroft was asked about the officiating and how the Oilers have had only four powerplays compared to the Kings ten in two games. Woodcroft would be coy and note that they scored on the lone power play they had—which looking back is somewhat ironic as the next game the Oilers head coach would take the exact opposite approach.
A no-win situation
Woodcroft since his arrival has been excellent with the referees. Anytime he’s interacted with them it’s mostly been for clarification or to make a challenge, which the Oilers have been great at this year. Game 3 would be the first time I can remember the head coach would be critical of the officiating as opposed to being coy or deflecting. It’s difficult not to agree especially when you consider Viktor Arvidsson diving, the weak roughing call on Desharnais, and of course the now infamous overtime high stick non-call even after review.
Blaming the refs is a rabbit hole that leads to the wrong mentality. Every hockey team regardless of the level has to overcome bad calls. A team can be affected by it or go out there and kill the penalty. Blaming the ref is a weak excuse for losing a game as it supersedes poor play or even a good effort from the opposition. Arguing calls with the officials is an uphill battle that rarely changes anything and it’s best just to accept the call being made and move on.
It is worth noting that every game up to this point the fans chanted “Ref, you suck.” There is an old adage in sports about the refs along the lines of, that if both fan bases are upset, then the refs probably did a good job. The Oilers went 2/4 on the power play and the Kings 2/5. If you just looked at that stat line you’d say the game was probably called pretty even.
The Oilers posted good 5v5 stats going CF% 63.64, xGF% 53.10, SCF% 64.15, and HDCF% 47.93. The Oilers even outshot the Kings 40 to 31. In the end they did not lose the game because of a non-high stick call. They probably should have won the game but didn’t. It happens. This game felt like the Oilers got away from their strengths and got lured into chippy emotional hockey.
The bright side was Connor McDavid sniping two beauties back-to-back to tie the game. The goals were almost identical and it’s too bad the team was unable to support him and get this win.
Game 4 would see the Oilers post rather pedestrian 5v5 stats, CF% 50.74, xGF% 45.02, SCF% 48.05, and HDCF% 47.50. Which is expected when they played possibly the worst 20 minutes all season. The Oilers down 3–0 after the first period was a tough pill to swallow, even more so after how Game 3 ended. Things were grim for the Oilers and going down 3–1 in the series was more likely than not.
Stuart Skinner would be pulled at intermission and Desharnais was benched, rightfully so. His poor play at the blueline which lead to Arvidsson scoring was brutal. The only glimmer of hope was that there was 40 minutes still left and the Oilers have had some amazing comebacks throughout the season.
Here come the Oilers as they would get one back early in the second from Bouchard on the power play. They would follow that up with two goals from Draisaitl to tie the game heading into the third. L.A. would again take the lead but stellar play from Jack Campbell kept the Oilers in it and with three minutes left Evander Kane ties it. The Oilers would pretty much dominate overtime only allowing three shots. Zach Hyman would end it on a rather innocent looking entry from the left side.
This game had so many momentum swings that it really is a testament to this Oiler teams resiliency and never quit attitude. They would regain home ice in what was now a best of three.
The blowout and clinch
I was expecting the Oilers to have at least one lopsided win during this series and it finally happened at home in Game 5. Skinner was back in net and Desharnais was done warming the bench. The Oilers would take the lead eight minutes in and never look back winning 6–3. The composure from the regular season had finally transitioned into their post season play and the Oilers were able to put together a comfortable and convincing win.
The most surprizing thing from Game 5 was that they posted their worst 5v5 CF% 40.18 of the series. The shots were almost even but the goals were not. Regardless the team looked poised to finish the series in L.A. and had extra time to rest as there was an odd three-day break in between games.
The stick break
Game 6 would see more of the same composed Oilers as they would take an early lead and hold it most of the game until seven minutes into the third. While on the power play, Skinner’s stick would break leading to Phillip Danault scoring to tie it, short-handed no less. It was quite an unbelievable turn of events as the Oilers had a glorious opportunity to add the insurance marker on the power play. The series would have been essentially over, instead they would have to score another or go into overtime.
Fortunately Kailer Yamamoto would put a well timed shot on net and score the game winner with three minutes left. The Oilers would overcome yet another setback to finish this series in six but again post poor 5v5 numbers, despite winning (CF% 45.10, xGF%51.39, SCF% 47.46, HDCF% 48.28)
Going into Round 2
This series had a little bit of everything except the Kings winning convincingly. The Oilers were the better team overall posting 5v5 CF% 52.67, xGF% 54.35, SCF% 54.09, and HDCF% 53.46. They also lead the league with a 56.3 PP%. In order for L.A. to win, it required them to play their best game and for the Oilers to be slightly off. Once the Oilers were able to get over the emotions of the game and stay out of the penalty box it was over.
This series was a great learning experience for Skinner and Desharnais, and confidence boost for the team. McDavid had what some would call a quiet series and still put up three goals, seven assists, totalling ten points. Having Draisaitl on the roster as well puts the Oilers in an enviable situation as his seven goals help lead the team into the next round.
Overall the rest of the team was able to contribute as 18 skaters registered a point for the Oilers this series. Jack Campbell was excellent when called on and for the first time in a long time, the team has a good enough goalie tandem going forward. The one concern would be the penalty kill that finished 12th after the first round with a 66.7%. It is interesting the note that the Golden Knights were 15th with a 58.3% PK.
The Oilers can win games every way but are in their element on the transition and power play. They do not have home ice for this series, however they have been an excellent road team and finished only two points behind Vegas in the regular season. The Oilers also won the regular season series 3–1. Two of those games went to overtime and a third one goal game as well as a 7–4 blowout win.
With the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, and Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated from the playoffs, the Oilers have become the favourite to the win the Cup. The Oilers may never get a better chance of going all the way and are again the betting favourites going into the series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Hopefully the lessons learned from this series roll over into Wednesday and the Oilers are able to get that coveted Game 1 road win.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire