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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 64.0: Character Test (6:30pm MT, SNW)

Winning is hard, and it becomes even more challenging in the postseason. You have to be mentally focused and ensure you bring your best effort every night in the postseason. Tonight isn’t a playoff game, but the Oilers are coming off a tough 3-2 overtime loss against the Avalanche last night, and tonight will test the mental fortitude of the group.

The Oilers will battle fatigue and face a team desperate for a win. This will be a great test to see how the Oilers respond to adversity.

Last year, despite playing well, the Oilers couldn’t find ways to win in the playoffs — a bad turnover at a key time, unable to win an important 50/50 battle, or not bury a quality scoring chance. Those are often the differences between winning and losing in the postseason. Connor Hellebuyck played great for the Jets, but the Oilers never found a way to score the timely goal. Edmonton played great last night but just fell short. Granted it was in 3-on-3 overtime which won’t occur in the playoffs, but tonight I’m curious to see how they respond.

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You need a short memory in the playoffs. Edmonton lost game two, three and four in overtime. They were in every game, and often had the better scoring chances, but they couldn’t finish and in two of the losses they had untimely, unforced errors which led directly to goals against. Those are tough lessons, but tonight I’ll be watching to see how the team reacts after a tough loss last night.

The difference is that in the playoffs, fatigue isn’t an advantage for either team. Both teams are playing the same schedule, and tonight the Stars are the slightly more rested team. Dallas lost to the Islanders on Saturday, but then won in Washington on Sunday. Tonight is their third game in four nights, similar to the Oilers, but Edmonton is playing the second half of a back-to-back.

Dallas’ victory in Washington occurred when they played their third game in four nights and on the second half of a back-to-back, so while fatigue is a small factor, the Oilers can’t let it become the main one. They need to have some jump, and forwards who didn’t play a lot last night like Zack Kassian, Derek Ryan, Devin Shore, Brad Malone, Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod and Jesse Puljujarvi need to bring energy early in the game. Jay Woodcroft relied a lot on his top five forwards last night as they matched the Avs’ top guys, so tonight the depth guys need to show they can be engaged and able to lighten the load of the top guys.

They need to match the intensity and determination Kailer Yamamoto showed last night in Denver. Yamamoto was thoroughly invested in the game. He was around the puck, he was involved in puck battles, he was engaged in confrontations along the boards and in front of the net. It wasn’t like the Oilers’ bottom six played passively. Brad Malone had a few big hits, but overall they need to get their coach’s attention more. Part of the low TOI was due to matchups. Woodcroft wanted Leon Draisaitl’s line out against Nathan MacKinnon and both coaches used their top guys a lot.

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Stars head coach Rick Bowness doesn’t have elite superstar forwards like MacKinnon, Draisaitl or Connor McDavid. He has a very good top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, but they average 15:16, 14:08 and 14:55 at 5×5 respectively. They all average 18 minutes a game with Pavelski leading at 18:22/night. I doubt Bowness will try to match his top two lines shift-per-shift with the Oilers’ top guys. Dallas isn’t built to play that way.

Woodcroft might run his top guys all 20+ minutes again tonight, but ideally, I think he’d like to have a few more forwards in the 12-15 minute range tonight, which will drop the minutes of his top forwards a bit. It will depend on the flow of the game and how many penalties are called, of course, but the Stars don’t create nearly as many power play chances as Colorado does.

Last night the Oilers played very well. A few unlucky bounces led to both Colorado power play goals, but overall the Oilers were right in that game. They lost, and they can’t carry that into tonight. They need another solid effort, and if they play well and win there is a chance they will return to Edmonton in second place in the Pacific division. They sit one point behind Los Angeles with a game in hand. The Kings host Nashville tonight.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Kane – McDavid – Yamamoto
Hyman – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
Foegele – Shore – Ryan
Malone – McLeod – Kassian

Nurse – Ceci
Keith – Bouchard
Russell – Barrie

Koskinen

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It sounds like the only lineup change will be in goal with Mikko Koskinen starting. Derick Brassard said yesterday he was travelling directly to Edmonton today, while Brett Kulak was likely doing the same if the Oilers didn’t suffer any injuries last night. I’m told they didn’t, so look for Brassard and Kulak to make their debuts Thursday v. the Sharks.

Stars

Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski
Peterson – Seguin – Gurianov
Studenic – Benn – Radulov
Raffl – Faksa – Glendening

Lindell – Klingberg
Suter – Hakanpää
Hanley – Sekera

Oettinger

Vladislav Namestnikov won’t play for the Stars tonight after being acquired from Detroit yesterday. He was unable to get to Dallas last night due to weather, so he too will wait to make his debut with his new club. The Stars are still without their top blueliner. Miro Heiskanen is out indefinitely with mononucleosis. There is no timetable for his return and that is a huge blow for the Stars.

When Dallas defeated the Oilers 4-1 on November 23rd, the Oilers were without Darnell Nurse and then Duncan Keith left the game in the second period with an injury. We’ll see if the Oilers can take advantage of the Stars missing their top defender.

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TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers show some resiliency and leave Dallas with a 4-2 win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid had a season-starting 17-game scoring streak snapped v. Dallas on November 23rd. He isn’t held scoreless tonight.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Ryan McLeod scores his second goal in his past 26 games.

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