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The Day After +14.0: Oilers head home with series split

Edmonton Oilers Dallas Stars
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
26 days ago
It’s never easy to find victories in a loss, but if there’s one for the Edmonton Oilers to cling to Sunday morning, it’s the fact that they’re returning home with a split in the Western Conference Finals.
After a strong Game 1 performance Thursday in which Edmonton won 3-2 thanks to Connor McDavid’s double overtime heroics, they appeared to be well on track for another win in Game 2, only to fall 3-1. They started the game with some jump, answering Jamie Benn’s game-opening goal with one of their own when Connor Brown tied it up 44 seconds later.
Edmonton made a strong push in that first frame, outshooting Dallas 16-4, but the only problem was that they mustered just 13 shots on goal over the next two periods. It was a combination of the Oilers not capitalizing on their opportunities and the Stars doing what they do so well: blocking shots and getting in lanes, denying 22 from getting to Jake Oettinger.
“They’re obviously a good shot-blocking team, but I thought we had our looks,” said Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm after the game. “I hit the knob with four minutes to go, it’s a 2-2 game at that point if we score. I’m not saying there’s just one chance, but we had our looks.”
Ekholm’s look was one of many the Oilers had, coupled with scrambles in front of the crease nobody could seem to bang home. And much like Ekholm said after Game 1 talking about McDavid’s refusal to be denied a second time in overtime, this club knows they won’t be able to allow that to continue.
“It’s just a matter of bearing down and we got to keep getting in there, keep getting our nose in the paint and we’re going to get a tip at some point,” Ekholm added. “I think we’re playing well enough to win, but we still do have another level to our game, I think. We got the split, so we’re going home to regroup and come out hot for Game 3.”
Dallas never made it easy on the Oilers, pushing hard in the second half of the game that culminated in what you’d expect from a playoff goal when Ryan Suter’s shot from the point was somehow deflected in front by Mason Marchment early in the third.
The Oilers continued pushing, but the Stars locked it down. That’s playoff hockey, baby.
But being able to go into Dallas through the first two games and walk out with the series split is nothing to scoff at. It’s a time of year when only the best of the best remain, and despite the Stars having home-ice advantage entering the series, that’s now been lost.
Now, with Games 3 and 4 set to be played in Edmonton, the team will have a chance to sleep in their own beds, re-group and play in front of a charged home-ice crowd.
“If you would’ve told me four or five days ago we could come in here and split against Dallas, who just knocked out Vegas, Colorado, two really good teams, for us to come into their building where they’ve played very well and for us to split one, we would’ve taken that,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “Now, it’s a little bit more bitter when you win the first one and lose the second one. We’re just excited to go back to Edmonton and play on our home ice.”
In doing so, the Oilers will look for their big guns to find their game again. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were held scoreless, as the latter of the two snapped a 13-game playoff points streak. The Stars played a hard, tight-checking game on them all night. While that can happen for a game or two here or there, it’s rare for that to persist for long.
Their supporting cast, however, played an excellent Game 2. Stuart Skinner was strong in the net, turning aside 22 of 24 shots for a .917 save percentage, marking a fourth consecutive game where he’s allowed two or less goals against. Over them, he’s posted a .921 save percentage, stopping 4.73 goals above expected, according to Natural Stat Trick. Brown’s goal in the first was a big one, keeping the Oilers in the action, as he and his linemates had another excellent game.
With puck drop set for 6:30 PM MST Monday, the Oilers, having gone 4-0 following a loss in these playoffs, will look to make it five straight doing so.

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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