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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Be Better

Edmonton Oilers fans can keep venting over the call that kept Cale Makar’s 3-2 goal on the board versus the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday – in 35 years writing hockey I’d never felt a need to look up that offside rule or had it explained to me – but they’d be better served taking a page from coach Jay Woodcroft’s book.

Rather than protracted moaning and groaning in the wake of an 8-6 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference final to a Colorado team that was infinitely better on the night and didn’t need the benefit of the doubt that came with rule 83.3, the Oilers need to be a lot better on Thursday or they’ll be down two games in the series.

Too often, the Oilers looked overmatched, flat-footed and slow. On a night they couldn’t get a save when they needed one — and they needed too many because of defensive breakdowns resulting in clear-cut cracks at Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen — it was no contest. The Makar goal verdict was frustrating, but it wasn’t the difference in the game. No, really. It wasn’t.

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WHAT THEY SAID

“To a man, we weren’t good enough defensively,” said Woodcroft before talking specifically about the Makar goal. “You score six goals in a game you should win the game. For us, we know we can be better, and we will be as we move forward here.

“I didn’t really get an explanation. We looked at it, we felt the player had control of the puck, didn’t know that there was an offside player. We thought it was the right move to challenge that call. It didn’t go our way. Stuff happens, you got to live with it and move on.”

“We obviously have to change something here,” said Leon Draisaitl, referencing a hideous series start in a 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames in the second round. “We can’t be giving up that many goals and expect to win a Western Conference final game. That’s the second time this has happened. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go right off the bat.” 

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The Oilers had their moments. Evander Kane put the Oilers on the board first, but they gave up the 1-1 goal to J.T. Compher just 36 seconds later. Zach Hyman stayed hot, making it 2-2, but Makar tied it on the play that caused all the fuss nine seconds later. When the Oilers managed to get some traction, it didn’t last very long.

THE WAY I SEE IT

May 31, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers fans hold up a sign before the game against the Colorado Avalanche in game one of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to blow smoke here. Based on every close play like it I’ve ever seen, and there have been a few, I thought the Makar play was offside. I still can’t reconcile what I saw with any of the explanations given or interpretations of the rule provided. I called it bullsh-t last night on Twitter and I feel the same way today. The thing is the call isn’t going to change.

What can change, what has to change, is the way the Oilers defend Makar, Nate MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen and the rest of the talented group of players coach Jared Bednar can throw over the boards at any given time. The Avs weren’t the class of the conference by accident. Smith has to be better than he showed last night. We know he’s capable of that.

We’ve talked about this edition of the Oilers being resilient more than once with Woodcroft calling the shots. They will have to be against the Avs, who are a clear cut above the Los Angeles Kings and the Flames. They reminded us of that last night. That’s true even without goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who left with an upper body injury. What’s his status?

The Oilers need to be better. Right now.

Previously by Robin Brownlee