What if? What might have been for the Edmonton Oilers went right out the window when the San Jose Sharks whupped up on them in a 7-0 embarrassment at the SAP Center Tuesday night. What might have been, had they managed a win in Game 4, was the Oilers would have returned home for Game 5 tonight up 3-1 in their playoff series with an opportunity to close out the Sharks at Rogers Place.
Instead, despite putting on a collective brave face and saying all the right things when their flight touched down back in Edmonton yesterday, the Oilers take the ice tonight still stinging from the ass-kicking they absorbed. Instead of the Sharks facing a must-win game on the road, it’s the Oilers, who already know that they’re headed back to San Jose, dragging the must-win anvil. What’s up in the air is whether they go back to San Jose up 3-2 or down 3-2 and facing elimination.
Before the series began, I thought the Oilers, who went into the post-season on a tidy roll and had been the better team late in the season series with the Sharks, would be able to take advantage of a San Jose line-up that would be without Joe Thornton or Logan Couture, maybe both. I liked the match-up for a lot of reasons.
I picked the Oilers in a short series, five games. That, obviously, isn’t going to happen now. Couture was ready from the hop and Thornton is back. Even with that, the window of opportunity for a short series that would go Edmonton’s way was open when the teams took the ice Tuesday. It’s slammed shut now. The Oilers can, and might, still win this series, but they’ve got that 7-0 baggage to unload and not much time to do it. It’s a longer series and longer odds now.
TALKING THE TALK
The theme when the Oilers met with assembled media Wednesday was exactly what you’d expect. A loss is a loss, whether it’s 1-0 or 7-0. The series is tied 2-2 heading home. We can be better . . .
“We didn’t play we wanted to, losing 7-0 nothing really went our way,” said Mark Letestu. “At the same time we’ve got to realize that we’ve probably strengthened an already strong belief system over there. Some guys have finally got some confidence that they can put the puck away. Our task is a little bit more difficult. That being said, we’ve played all year to get home-ice advantage and it’s a best-of-three with two games at home. It’s something our team should feel really good about.”
Added Andrej Sekera: “There are some bumps in the road but the good news is there’s still a lot of hockey left and we just have to focus on the next game,” he said. “We talked about it in the dressing room and these are the ones that you forget about. You move on. It’s a new day and new game tomorrow. We’ve just got to get ready for that. There are lessons every game but the good thing is, it’s 2-2 going home and now it’s who will win the mini-series. It’s a best-of-three now.”
Veteran talk from a couple of veterans. Fair enough. I’ve got to say, though, that while I see no need or point for the Oilers to sit sobbing in a corner in the fetal position, it is a bit rich to frame the task ahead “as a little bit more difficult now.” It’s a lot more difficult now – unless I’m over-estimating the advantage of coming home up 3-1 with a chance to end it instead of 2-2 with the jet warming up for a return trip to San Jose. Maybe it’s just me.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If the Oilers actually can shake off any of the doubts that tend to creep in when you get waxed like they did – it’s far easier said than done, especially with a young team like this one that’s short on experience in the rigors of the playoffs – they’ve certainly got the chance to turn things back their way. That said, it’ll take more than that to turn the tide on a playoff-tested San Jose team that has to be feeling pretty good right about now. A lot more.
First, and Jason Gregor touched on this Wednesday, the Oilers have to start getting something out of their top-six forwards. I went into the series believing the Oilers were better in their top six than the Sharks. I still believe that. That, of course, matters little because San Jose’s top end has been better than Edmonton’s five-on-five to this point. Connor McDavid has been ordinary by his standards, if that. Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon haven’t had much going. Jordan Eberle? Mercy. That has to change.
Second, the Oilers absolutely have to stop parading to the penalty box. I haven’t liked a couple of calls against the Oilers – a bogus delay of game penalty to Zack Kassian is the example that stands out – but they’ve also taken too many penalties that were nothing more than the product of frustration. Most notably McDavid and Draisaitl, with his pitchfork job on Chris Tierney. Using the “referees are out to get us” crutch is a loser’s game. Don’t play it.
Can the Oilers park that ass-kicking? Yes. Can McDavid bounce back from his so-so-start to the series and maybe drag the rest of the top-six with him? Sure he can. Can the Oilers show better discipline and stay out of the box? Yes, and they’d better. This is a series that’s still up for grabs. One team is going to take a grip on it tonight before it returns to San Jose. Better for the Oilers to have come home with a chance to end things tonight and saved buying the jet fuel for the return trip to California, but . . .
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.