Whether you want to call it puck luck or getting the bounces, random chance can play a big part in any hockey game. We saw a prime example of that Wednesday as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 at Rogers Place to take a 2-1 lead in their play-in series.
This was a game the Oilers were lucky to be in a position to win through 54 minutes. A parade to the penalty box, aided by some ticky-tack calls, had them shorthanded a half-dozen times in the first 32 minutes. But the penalty killing was terrific and, with the Blackhawks rattling pucks off the pipes, two goals by Leon Draisaitl and another by Connor McDavid had them up 3-2 when Lady Luck turned her back on them.
Matthew Highmore’s 3-3 goal came when he waved at a point shot by Slater Koekkoek and tipped it over Mikko Koskinen’s shoulder from the high slot. Jonathan Toews’ winner with 76 seconds to play came when Connor Murphy’s wrist shot from the point tipped off Ethan Bear’s stick and then off his leg past Koskinen. It was the second lucky bounce for Toews as he had a pass from Kirby Dach deflect in off his skate to put Chicago up 2-1 on a power play late in the first period.
Just like that, the Blackhawks got a couple of bounces and the Oilers, who went into the game without Adam Larsson and lost forward Tyler Ennis to injury, were unlucky not to prevail in a game they were lucky to be in a position to win, as bizarre as that sounds. No, you can’t hang this loss solely on bad luck, but it played a significant part in the Oilers facing elimination Friday.
WHAT THEY SAID
“You are tempting fate when you take penalties, especially when your penalty killers are taking them,” coach Dave Tippett said in reference to Josh Archibald and Kailer Yamamoto, who took two minors each. “Deflections, sometimes they go wide or hit the goalie. This time they found their way in.”
“We battled and put ourselves in a position at the end of the game where we could have won,” said Darnell Nurse. “But some bounces went the other way. Now we have to respond on Friday with our best game.”
“A five-game series is definitely different, but you always know, even in a seven-game series, games three and four are the toughest ones to close out,” Toews said. “We’ve had some experience in the past knowing how to play and how to prepare for those big games.”
Yes, experience. It’s the only edge I saw for the Blackhawks coming in, particularly with high-end guys like Toews and Patrick Kane. I suppose you could argue an edge in goal with Corey Crawford based on his resume, but he came in having missed most of training camp. The truth is he’s barely been ordinary in winning two of the first three games.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Frustration, most of it directed at the referees, was rampant after the game last night. You know that when somebody comments that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has “disappeared” (he has scored 1-6-7 and is tied with McDavid for the team lead in scoring, leads the Oilers with 13 shots and is 7-for-7 on faceoffs) and that Tippett is being outcoached. I haven’t seen that.
The Oilers can still win this series, and I think they will, if they stop leaning on their penalty killing so much. As good as it’s been all season — allowing just one goal on 10 attempts the last two games after giving up three in game one — spending too much time in the box shortens your bench and kills any rhythm on the attack. Show some discipline. Don’t let officiating be a factor.
Like I said earlier, Crawford hasn’t looked his usual sharp self from where I sit. The Oilers need to direct more pucks at him and get more traffic to the net — after 42 shots in the first game, they had 35 in Game 2 and 28 last night. Get the puck and some bodies to the paint. A bounce or two Friday, Lady Luck willing, would help as well.