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The Day After +6.0: Oilers learn not to take their foot off the gas

Conor Garland Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
Life comes at you fast in the NHL playoffs.
One minute, you could be holding a 4-1 lead halfway through the game, only for you to suffer a loss after four to go into your own team’s net.
That’s exactly what happened to the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night, dropping Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite building up a 4-1 lead with seven minutes left in the second period thanks to a pair of goals from Zach Hyman and others from Mattias Ekholm and Cody Ceci, the Oilers watched it all slip away. The slide started when Elias Lindholm scored with three minutes left in the second, wrapping a puck around the Oilers net which took an odd bounce in.
Edmonton weathered the storm early in the third, but then J.T. Miller tipped a puck past Stuart Skinner and in. Four minutes later, a Nikita Zadorov point shot found its way through, and then it was Conor Garland putting the icing on the cake with an odd-angle shot on the rush.
And while the Oilers might’ve been able to play a defence-first game against the L.A. Kings, limiting them in Games 3 and 4 to just one goal playing a similar style as they did last night, Edmonton might not be able to do that this time around.
“Sometimes, the game script goes that way,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “We’re up by two and we’re trying to just stretch it into a win. We’re able to get it done in L.A., they didn’t get many shots on goal in the third period, and we find a way to get a win.
“Tonight, we didn’t.”
The Oilers did lots of good things. They limited the number of high-danger looks the Canucks had and, accounting for score effects, controlled the shot attempt share by game’s end, according to Natural Stat Trick. They were able to play tight defensive hockey, and while it may not have been his A game by the time the buzzer sounded, Stuart Skinner was a big reason the Oilers were able to build their lead in the first place.
He made key stops early in the game, but it’s the late ones he wasn’t able to lock down that cost the team.
“There’s going to be games where it’s not his A game,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “He’ll be the first to admit tonight wasn’t his A game, but we never doubt him with how he plays and more importantly how he responds after a game that wasn’t his best.”
And even on the goals against, Knoblauch didn’t see big mistakes in the Oilers’ game.
“There’s always things we can adjust, and there’s going to be mistakes,” he said. “We can’t say that we want the structure always. The players have to read and react. I thought they were in pretty good positions, and we didn’t have many major breakdowns.”
The Oilers had it right there, and let it slip away. It’s a luxury they can’t afford, but on their side is a calm, cool demeanour that helped them navigate the trials and tribulations of their 82-game regular season and a first-round matchup with the L.A. Kings. After squandering Game 2 in overtime, the Oilers roared back with two of their most dominant performances in recent memory.
Last night, they learned that taking their foot off the gas isn’t something they can do against this Canucks club.
Can they replicate that Friday night against Vancouver?

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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