The Oilers took to the ice around 10:10 this morning. Iiro Pakarinen and Matt Hendricks were the first ones out carrying a large puck bag and by 10:22 the optional morning skate was underway.
Many discuss the pressure of the playoffs, but the smiles on the player’s faces remind you this is the most fun many of the young Oilers have had in their careers.
Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning skated this morning, as did veterans Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, and Eric Gryba.
Laurent Brossoit and Cam Talbot were in goal, and Talbot spent 15 minutes working on specific drills with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz.
It was a crisp skate run by assistant coaches Jim Johnson, Jay Woodcroft and Ian Herbers. It was calm, relaxed and jovial. However, seeing the arena seats filled with orange pompoms was a constant reminder of the emotionally-charged chaos that will unfold later tonight.
It was the calm before the storm, but I didn’t sense the players felt any pressure, only excitement about the opportunity in front of them.
A victory would give the Oilers a 3-1 series lead, while a loss would make Anaheim’s flight back to Orange County much more enjoyable. I don’t believe momentum carries over from game to game in the playoffs. Both teams are hungry, and when you are down to the final eight teams of the tournament there are no easy nights.
I’d argue there is more angst and concern within Oilersnation than there is inside the Oilers dressing room. Playing the game is fun, but watching it as a fan, when you have no control over the outcome, is gut-wrenching, exciting, nerve-wracking and tension-filled. It is easier playing than it is watching. Ask any player who has to sit in the pressbox and watch his teammates. They hate it because they have no control or ability to impact the game.
For the players on the ice, however, they can’t wait for the puck to drop.
“The playoffs are the best. This is the most fun you have playing hockey. I don’t see it as pressure, instead it is an opportunity to fulfill your childhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup,” Kris Russell told me yesterday as we chatted inside the Oilers dressing room. Russell enjoyed the extra day off by taking his dog for a long walk in the river valley. He smiled discussing his dog, the incredible atmosphere in Edmonton, both in and out of the rink, and while he is loving every moment of this year’s playoffs, he wants to take the next step.
Russell has never been past the second round of the playoffs. He lost in round two in 2012 with St.Louis, 2015 with Calgary and 2016 with Dallas. He wants to experience the third round.
Most of Russell’s teammates are in the second round for the first time in their careers.
Only Patrick Maroon (2015 with Anaheim), David Desharnais (2014 in Montreal), Benoit Pouliot (with Montreal in 2010 and the Rangers in 2014), and Milan Lucic (2011 and 2013 with Boston), have played in the third round. “It is very difficult to win the deeper you go in the playoffs. You have to impose your will and I think it is more of a mental challenge than physical much of the time. You have to be sharp mentally, and the best way to do that is to look at every game as a great opportunity. Now is not the time to worry about things. You have to remain focused on the task at hand, and regardless of the result, I know the next game will be just as challenging. That is what makes it so fun. There are no easy games. You have to be on your best and I think our team relishes that challenge,” replied Lucic.
Maroon – McDavid – Draisaitl
Lucic – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
Caggiula – Letestu – Kassian
Pouliot – Desharnais – Slepyshev
Klefbom – Larsson
Sekera – Russell
Nurse – Benning
No changes for the Oilers. They are 6-3 in the playoffs and have an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on home ice. Now would not be the time to alter the roster.
Rakell – Getzlaf – Perry
Cogliano – Kesler – Silfverberg
Ritchie – Thompson – Kase
Wagner – Vermette – Shaw
Fowler – Montour
Lidholm – Manson
Theodore – Vatanen
Patrick Eaves is doubtful for tonight according to Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. Corey Perry will take his spot on the top line and that’s a pretty solid fall back plan for the Ducks. Perry has scored thirty goals four times, forty goals once and fifty goals once. He did have his lowest goal total, 19, in a full season since he scored 17 in 2007. He’s had an off year, but he knows how to play with Ryan Getzlaf, and is excited to be back on the top line. The Oilers can’t let Perry get on track.
“When things aren’t going well for Corey Perry, I believe he’s not around the puck and he’s not physical.” Carlyle said yesterday in Kelowna
“He’s a guy that earned his living from the top of the circles down. He’s been a world-class player in providing offense from those areas. From behind the net, bringing the puck to the front of the net. Somewhat of a pest to the goaltender. That’s his role. When he doesn’t do that, then he’s losing his effectiveness. That’s what we’re asking him to do. Be around the puck. Let’s not play one-on-one hockey over the blue lines. Move the puck and drive the middle lane,” continued Carlyle.
Perry tried to downplay his excitement to be back with Getzlaf, but it was apparent. I wonder if McLellan tries to get the Klebom/Larsson pairing out against Getzlaf even more now that Perry is on his wing. Those two can wreak havoc down low.
- “It comes down to finishing the chances we create. We’ve had some chances in both series, but haven’t beared down on them. We can’t let that frustrate us. It is a time of year where wins and losses are more much more important than personal stats. But then again, this is the time of year it is about results. We all want to score and contribute and this is a big game for our team and our line,” said Lucic when discussing the offensive struggles of the Oilers second line.
- “I heard that yesterday and I was surprised. I thought we were supposed to be the team that was whining,” said McLellan in response to Randy Carlyle’s statement on McDavid getting ‘White-glove’ treatment from the officials. Baggedmilk broke down Todd McLellan’s full response a little bit earlier and it was classic.
- I believe Carlyle made his statement because McDavid had his best game of the series, and he might be leery about #97 starting to dominate games. If he feels McDavid is figuring out how to deal with Ryan Kesler’s shadowing of him, he likely wants to get out in front of the fact his team might be all over McDavid even more in the next few games.
- Jermain Franklin from TSN is in town covering the game. He told me a great story of being mistaken for Roger Millions. A fan walked up to him and said, “Roger Millions, big fan. Can I have an autograph.” Seriously. I had a good chuckle.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers don’t waste a great opportunity like they did in game four versus the Sharks and skate away with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Getzlaf is a physical force and picks up a point. McDavid draws another penalty and also picks up a point.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Lucic-RNH-Eberle trio combine for two goals…their first goals since game one versus the Sharks.
Watching at home tonight?
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