Most of what you read and hear in the hours after an outcome as disappointing as the Edmonton Oilers’ 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday, knocking them out of contention for the NHL’s 16-team playoff, is equal parts reaction and analysis – they aren’t the same. There is plenty of both to go around today with the Oilers’ season suddenly over.
In no particular order:
Dave Tippett got outcoached. While a lot of fans and pundits thought Tippett should give Mikko Koskinen the crease to open the play-in series, he opted instead to start Mike Smith in Game 1 and Smith got lit up on the way to a 6-4 loss.
On top of that, Tippett went away from the line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, one the league’s hottest trios down the stretch, and didn’t put them back together until there were just eight minutes left in Friday’s game.
The Oilers defensive play and the goaltending of Koskinen and Smith wasn’t good enough. The Oilers gave up 16 goals in four games. You aren’t going to win a series with numbers like that. Koskinen and Smith weren’t good enough to outplay Corey Crawford, who was no great shakes himself with 15 goals-against, but buckled down Friday to close the Oilers out.
There’s some merit to all of the above, but the most common thread when dissecting why the Oilers find themselves outside the playoff bubble looking in is as damning as it gets – they didn’t play with the intensity and battle level needed to beat the underdog Blackhawks, which most people thought they would going into the series. Unforgiveable.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We’re not happy at all,” said Darnell Nurse. “We all thought we had more to give. We didn’t bring what was necessary to win. That’s a good veteran team with a lot of guys who’ve won Cups, who played important roles on teams that have won Cups, and we didn’t bring enough to match it. The most intensity we had was when we played that exhibition game against Calgary.”
The Oilers didn’t win nearly enough one-on-one battles. They weren’t hard enough on pucks. The Blackhawks, smaller but far more tested in what it takes to win with the money on the table, schooled them that way. Where was the physicality? Where was Zack Kassian and the rest of the forwards in the bottom six? Where was the drive and hustle to finish checks, to get to the net?
“It’s frustrating because we expected better,” Tippett said. “In the regular season, we overachieved a little bit and in this playoff series it seems like we under-achieved . . . what we think is competing hard isn’t hard enough to win in the playoffs.”
Losing to the Blackhawks by coming up short on experience and gamesmanship is one thing. Likewise getting beaten by a proven playoff performer like Crawford, but he wasn’t much better than Koskinen and Smith most of the way. But to get out-worked and out-hustled in far too many stretches? That can’t happen. But it did. Here we are.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fans are pissed today and rightfully so. We don’t know how the Oilers would have done in the 16-team playoff, but a team with two of the best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Draisaitl won’t find out because, from top to bottom, this group didn’t bring it. What, they need a red jersey with a flaming “C” on the front to get their juices flowing?
I keep thinking of that shot on the bench with McDavid sagging under the realization that the Oilers had come up short again. Fans around here can relate because they’ve seen far too much of it over these last many lean years. There is at least some consolation if you come up wanting but go down swinging against a better team, knowing you at least gave yourself a chance. Here in the bubble, there isn’t even that to lean on.
As a final indignity, the guys wearing those red jerseys with the flaming “C” on the front are off to the final-16 playoff round. The Flames, the team the Oilers got revved up for in a mean-nothing tune-up game, will keep playing inside the bubble at Rogers Place, sitting in their dressing room. The Oilers, meanwhile, get ready for Monday’s draft lottery. Sure.