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Photo Credit: Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

On Second Thought

With about 13 minutes remaining in today’s matinee between the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, and with getting through their final game of the season healthy meaning much more for the Oilers in the big picture than the final score, I thought Mikko Koskinen was looking like a decent story. Of course I did.

With the game tied 1-1 and Koskinen sharp in a goaltending duel with Thatcher Demko, it looked like he’d bounced back nicely from a hideous outing May 6, when he gave up four goals on the first four shots he faced in a 6-3 loss to the Canucks. While Mike Smith will be the starter in the post-season, the Oilers will need Koskinen at some point in the playoffs, so better to have him feeling good about himself after getting torched 10 days ago. Sure. I couldn’t help myself.

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Within mere minutes of that tweet, Matthew Highmore beat Koskinen high to the glove side to make it 2-1. Sixteen seconds later, Travis Boyd beat Koskinen top-shelf glove side for a 3-1 lead. Then, for good measure, Highmore beat Koskinen again to make it 4-1. Three goals in 4:14. While that made for some solid jinx banter on the Twitter machine, it goes without saying nothing written or said by me or anybody else on social media has anything to do with what happens out on the ice. Coincidence.

The Koskinen angle went up in smoke like a $2 cigar, but the Oilers, 35-19-2 for 72 points, still got what they were looking for – they rested some players and didn’t get anybody hurt as they get ready for a best-of-seven first round series with the Winnipeg Jets, starting at home on Wednesday. That’s the important storyline.

DATE WITH THE JETS

Apr 26, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) in the second period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

“That game was a win if nobody got hurt and nobody got hurt, so we’re taking a win,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Other than that, it was a game that had no meaning to it from our side, so we got through it fine.

“The regular season, I thought we started slow, we continued to build all the way through and we improved our game as the year went on. Up to a week or so before these games really didn’t mean a lot, I thought our team was playing pretty solid, so we’ve got a lot to work with here. We’ll have a good day away tomorrow, have a couple good practices and get ready for Game 1.”

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While Tippett chose not to sit out any of his key players down the stretch with the exception of Smith, he did cut back on ice time for key cogs Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid played just 16:12 in this game and Draisaitl played 16:50. He backed off a little on Darnell Nurse, who still logged 21:25, and Tyson Barrie, who played just 13:00.

At the same time, Evan Bouchard got into his first game on the blue line since May 4 and logged 17:57. Slater Koekkoek played 17:18 in his first game since being injured against Calgary Feb. 20. Tippett had Gaetan Haas, his first game since May 1, and Joakim Nygard, out since April 19, up front. Simply put, Tippett didn’t ride his big horses too hard on the way to the finish line and he spotted in fresh legs, like Bouchard, in case he needs them later.

“Our preparation began weeks ago with different parts of our game,” said Tippett, whose team held a 7-2-0 edge against the Jets during the regular season. “We’ll continue to do that the next couple days. Obviously, you know your opponent, there are some things that are geared towards that. We’re well-versed on them already because of how many times we played them. You have a little brush up and make sure our game is in order. We’ll be looking to start well.”

Well, and relatively rested. 

WHILE I’M AT IT

My playoff picks for the first round.

TOR-MTL Leafs in 5       PIT-NYI Pens in 7

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EDM-WPG Oilers in 5    WSH-BOS Bruins in 6

CAR-NSH Canes in 6      COL-STL Avs in 5

FLA-TB Bolts in 7           VEG-MIN Knights in 6

Previously by Robin Brownlee