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Photo Credit: Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers

The Day After: Bear exits hibernation, leads charge in Oilers comeback win

I mean, what can you say.

Seemingly right from the get-go there was the feel of playoff hockey. Big hits, physical play and chances either way. It stayed that way right through the game that saw the Oilers take home a 4-1 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

While Montreal controlled most of the game through the first two frames, an offensive outburst in the final 10 minutes of the third saw Edmonton run away with the game.

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“It was huge. We really believed in ourselves and in this league, anyone can beat anyone,” said defenceman Ethan Bear, who let go a massive slapshot at the 10:49 mark of the third to tie the game at 1. “We just wanted to push the pace and get shots to the net and get guys going there. We had that and it showed, we were all over them.”

It was Bear himself who may have had his best game of the season. It’s his incredibly sound, albeit conservative, play that pushes the play. You rarely see him get caught out of position, and his booming shot on his goal shows his confidence is coming back.

Last night he controlled an incredible 93.78 percent of the expected goal share and 75 percent of the shot attempts at 5×5, both game highs. He saw a bump up the lineup, too, playing alongside Darnell Nurse, but more on that later.

After Bear’s goal, Edmonton kept the pedal down and kept pouring it on the Habs.

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Connor McDavid scored a highlight reel goal splitting two Canadiens defencemen four and a half minutes later, before Jesse Puljujarvi put the cherry on top a minute and a half after with a breakaway snipe beating Jake Allen.

“I’m never really afraid to take on two defenders,” said McDavid. “It can get me into trouble sometimes. Jesse did a great job backchecking and kind of separating the guy from the puck and it kind of popped free.

“I was able to get it in good stride and the D were scrambling back. I was just trying to make a play. I was pretty happy, but big Jess is always happy when we score. It always makes it fun for everyone around him.”

“That’s a team that’s had our number for whatever reason this year. This is a big win for our group.”

For the Oilers, who were down 1-0 heading into the third after a pass bounced off a skate and past Mike Smith, it was a win that can help evoke some more confidence in themselves. As McDavid mentioned, Montreal had Edmonton’s number this year coming into the game winning four of five games while outscoring the Oilers 15-7.

It shows Edmonton they can play the way Montreal does, and they have a chance to express that again tomorrow night.

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Backhanders…

  • Absolutely gutted for Jujhar Kharia, who left the game in the first after taking a clean, but heavy hit from Alex Romanov. Khaira went down and was clearly out of it as he tried to get back on his feet. It appears he suffered another concussion, what would be his second in a month. Let’s hope he’s feeling better soon.
  • While you never want to see a player go down the way he did, it allowed Tippett some flexibility with his lines up front as he double-shifted both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
  • On the backend, he split up Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie not long into the game electing to play the former with Bear. Nurse and Bear looked all the part of an elite defensive pairing controlling 74 percent of the shot attempts and 95 percent of the expected goals at 5×5.
  • Tippett sounded non-committal about putting Barrie back with Nurse: “We’ll see how it goes game to game with certain matchups. Bearsy is a really good defender, a strong, hard defender. There’s just certain situations where we’ve used him instead of Barrie there. Barrie is a real strong offensive player, so we use him in some of those situations. It gives our defence flexibility, it gives Jim (Playfair) flexibility in how he’s going to run our d.”

What they’re saying…

In a vacuum, this game was lost by the Montreal Canadiens because they sat on a 1-0 lead with 20 minutes to play — and with a couple of the world’s purest hockey players lined up across from them, ready to make them pay for it.

Leon Draisaitl helped apply the pressure to start, but Connor McDavid, held to zero goals and just two measly points through five games (and nearly 51 minutes of a sixth), set up two goals and scored one himself in the back half of a third period that saw his Edmonton Oilers completely dominate the Canadiens.

They fired things up on the power play, they built momentum, and then McDavid did what he does. He and Draisaitl were buzzing from different lines, he ended up capitalizing on the only mistakes the Canadiens made against him all night — notching his 24th goal and his 49th and 50th assists — and the Oilers skated away with a 4-1 win.

But it didn’t have to go this way. Not with the way the Canadiens played the first 40 minutes.

Sure, it was tight-checking, playoff-style hockey, with chances scarce at both ends. But if the Canadiens had any confidence to squeak out even one more goal to add to the lead Eric Staal gave them, they wouldn’t have needed to play the third on their heels. – Eric Engels, Sportsnet

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]