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The Day After +10.0: Oilers have no choice but to punch back

Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
There’s no better example of one team sucking the life out of another more than what we saw Thursday night.
After an excellent first period for the Edmonton Oilers, racking up a 2-1 lead with depth goals from Evander Kane and Mattias Janmark, this finally felt like the game where the big guns could get to work. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and Evan Bouchard could all play a little bit looser, and find a way to build on that lead.
The only problem? They continued to get choked out at five-on-five, taking a meagre three shots — none being goals — on five power play opportunities and the Canucks came with wave after wave.
Game. Set. Match. Canucks win 3-2.
Sometimes, simplifying a game that much is hard, but not here. The Oilers have been far too passive this series, and it’s catching up to them. They just aren’t playing their game. It happened in Game 1, letting a 4-1 lead slip away falling 5-4, and again in Game 3, where they played scared to lose.
There have been moments in each of the first five games in the series when the Oilers were in charge. They pushed the pace of play and looked like the team we’ve seen all season. But maybe the players were thrown out of whack with the minute splits in Games 2 and 3, and despite a good bounce back in Game 4, they didn’t have their legs last night.
Whatever it may be, the Oilers have found themselves in an uncomfortable position for the second year in a row. With their backs up against the wall, they’re returning to home ice on the brink of elimination.
In fact, this series almost perfectly mirrors last year’s against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Game 1 loss, bounceback win in Game 2. Coughing up home ice advantage in Game 3, punching back in Game 4. Game 5? A one-goal loss in which the Oilers couldn’t get a goal when they needed it most.
Game 6? That’s where the Oilers look to flip the script. Last year, the Oilers got a 2-1 lead after the first period, thanks to goals from Connor McDavid and Warren Foegele, but Vegas pulled away in the second period with a Jonathan Marchessault hat trick.
What plays to the Oilers’ benefit, as always, is their top-end talent. McDavid and Draisaitl can take games over and series over, and they need to find a way to do that here. McDavid has seen all of J.T. Miller throughout this series, and while the Oilers side has dominated the shot attempt share, scoring chance share and expected goal share, according to Natural Stat Trick, they haven’t won where it matters most: on the scoresheet.
Miller has outscored McDavid on the ice 2-0 at 5v5, and that’s not just a McDavid problem. It’s an Oilers problem. Their nine 5v5 goals in the second round are tied for the fewest and two back of what the Canucks have scored.
What else benefits the Oilers is that they can often play their best with their backs against the wall. We’ve seen it time and time again in the regular season and playoffs, and this is a team that has another gear.
They must find that on Saturday night if they want to extend their playoff life.

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 zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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