The Day After +7.0: Storybook performances lift Oilers over Canucks

Edmonton Oilers McDavid Draisaitl
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 month ago
There was no telling what was going to happen Friday night in Vancouver.
Two nights prior, the Oilers dropped Game 1 of their second-round series against the Canucks in ugly fashion. 4-1 Edmonton in the second period, they let four slip past them as the Canucks mounted a massive comeback.
For as much as the score stung, the fact that Leon Draisaitl was injured put things at DEFCON1. “Cramping and equipment issues,” it was called, but what it really was was a bone-chilling reality that for Game 2, they might have to find out how to navigate an important game without him.
But from the morning on, it was just another day in the office for Draisaitl.
“He went through his routine,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch, admitting that when Draisaitl wasn’t out playing sewer ball warming up with his teammates before the game, “I kind of held my breath a bit.”
Fear not, Kris, as Draisaitl was more than good to go. He took warmups, let the staff know he was feeling good enough to play, and a goal, four points and a 4-3 overtime victory later, the rest is history.
“When he got off, he confirmed he was ready to play and boy, did he ever play.” 
“Not only does he do this once, but he’s done this multiple times,” added Knoblauch. “High ankle sprain a couple years ago, and you look at all-time points in the playoffs, it says quite a bit about him. I know the players have a lot of respect for him and what he does. He plays his best when it’s the most difficult.”
Loading Draisaitl up on the top line with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman was more than just about putting the team’s three most offensively potent players together. It was about protecting Draisaitl, too.
After all, the centre position is the toughest of the forward group to play. Faceoffs are physical, and the body is required to get up and down the ice to cover key spots in all three zones. It turns out that wasn’t quite needed.
Even still, there was concern early in the game. Would Draisaitl be able to hold up throughout the game? Would the cramps he was dealing with flare up once again? It turns out that those concerns, too, weren’t needed.
“We didn’t know if he was going to play tonight until after the warm up. We really didn’t know,” Knoblauch said. “He had a couple shifts, then we had the first penalty kill, the faceoff was on the one side, and he’s looking over like ‘do you want me to take it?’
“As soon as he gave me that look, I knew ‘Okay we’re fine, he’s going to have a heckuva game.'”
Draisaitl’s night wasn’t the only spectacular one, as all eyes were on Connor McDavid, too. His Game 1 performance was paltry compared to what he usually brings, going all night without taking a single shot on goal.
The hope was that McDavid would be able to bounce back with a big performance, and boy, did he ever. Much like Draisaitl, McDavid scored a goal and four points, as the pair were in on each of the Oilers’ goals.
The night started off with McDavid setting up Draisaitl in the slot for a first period power play goal, where the latter had all the time in the world to pick his spot on a helpless Arturs Silovs. Then, a period later, the pair combined to set up Mattias Ekholm for what was the game-tying goal a mere 23 seconds after the Canucks took a lead.
The Dynamic Duo elevated their play as the game progressed, and the Oilers worked backwards to get into this series.
“It’s their work ethic,” said Oilers winger Warren Foegele about how the rest of the team feeds off of the pair. “I know in the summer, I train with them, and they’re always competing, always up early. They’re working on their craft and they don’t just show up in the regular season: they show up for the playoffs.”
A rising tide lifts all boats.
As the second period turned to the third and the Canucks held a 3-2 lead thanks to a Nikita Zadorov short-side, top-shelf goal Stuart Skinner undoubtedly would like back, Connor and Leon got to work. Effectively double-shifted all night, they pushed the pace of play, hemming the Canucks into their own zone and allowing their teammates to feed off their energy.
All it took was a loose puck in the neutral zone McDavid could poke into space to get a breakaway, burying a wrist shot past Silovs to tie it back up at three a piece. Hungry for more, the Oilers peppered the Canucks through the rest of the period, somehow not finding the back of the net as a battered Vancouver club had their tails tucked between their legs.
Edmonton’s frenetic pace continued in the overtime frame, sending wave after wave after wave. The final bounce, one in which Evan Bouchard threw a puck towards the net that Canucks defenceman Ian Cole deflected home, was enough to end it. After seemingly every bounce had gone against the Oilers this post-season, they finally earned one themselves.
“You’d like to think we earned that break,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “With that being said, it’s a smart play by Bouch to throw it there. They got big D-men that don’t move too far from there.
“Sometimes you can throw it there and it will rattle around and find it’s way in the net like it did.”
As the final horn sounded and 17 players mobbed Bouchard, two took a moment to themselves: McDavid and Draisaitl, embracing in a hug.
Back to Edmonton, they go.

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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