You know what they say — a setback is a setup for a comeback.
And so it was that the Edmonton Oilers smashingly rebounded from their disheartening opening loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1, on a capital-letter OOPS puck mistake by goalie Mike Smith, with a 6-0 gut-check 48 hours later as Smith made 30 saves.
He that giveth away, taketh away with only one hairy close call in the third on Smith when a dump-in by Sean Durzi hit referee Jake Brenk, the onetime Oiler draft pick, and the puck bounced crazily towards the net with Smith diving to glove it.
“I didn’t know where the puck hit him but I know it got him pretty hard. So obviously I went over to see if he’s OK,” said Smith. “I asked him right away if that would have counted if it went in the net. And he said ‘no, it wouldn’t have.’ It was a little tense there but it stayed out.”
While Smith was rock solid in his fifth career shutout, his teammates hit everything that moved except the Zamboni and the driver. The list included captain Connor McDavid, who got a boarding call early on Mikey Anderson, then he belted Alex Iafallo in the second period with a frustrated Iafallo swinging his stick at McDavid’s leg.
In between the physicality, the Oilers killed off all four Kings’ power plays In the last 18 league games they were 92.5 percent, No. 1 in the league and they’re eight-for-eight in the first two games. Throwing salt in the Kings’ special teams wound, the Oilers also scored two on their PP to run their effectiveness to 4-for-8.
They blew it open in a 19-shot second period, scoring three times on Jonathan Quick — one on the power play, one short-handed and one even-strength, covering all the bases.
Leon Draisaitl, who also was laying on the body, ripped a shot over Jonathan Quick’s shoulder on the PP for the game’s first goal, then Darnell Nurse got the first shortie by an Oilers defenceman in 32 years. Ryan McLeod made it 3-0 when he tipped Evan Bouchard’s shot in the high slot, after some good work by Zach Kassian.
They added insult to injury with two in 21 seconds by Evander Kane and Jesse Puljujarvi, who had a very strong two-way game, in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third. Then Kane rounded out the scoring with another one on the power play.
“We stayed calm, believed in our structure and the way we can play,” said Nurse, whose short-handed goal that hit the stick of Arthur Kaliyev and ramped over Quick–the first by an Oiler D since Steve Smith got one against Winnipeg Jets in round one of the 1990 playoff.
“We were patient. We didn’t try to force anything. We kind of just waited for opportunities to open up and when they came we made the most of them,” said Nurse.
Iafallo hit the crossbar on Smith in the first on an LA power play, one of six shot on two PPs in the opening 20 minutes. But after that, they got very little done five-on-five after scoring four times even-strength in Game 1. The Oilers, who won the first playoff game before a full-house since May of 2017 (game six against Anaheim Ducks), flat-out took over the last two periods. They looked like they did for much of the two and half months Woodcroft has been behind the bench–structured, determined, willing and able.
“I think when we’re simple, straight-forward, direct, when we play with speed and simplicity and we have a pace and purpose about us, I think we’re a tough team to handle,” said Woodcroft, when asked about the team’s identity.
The Kings dressed in white and silver but were black and blue at game’s end.
“I look at the stats sheet and Kassian finished with six checks. He was a menace out there. Josh Archibald finished with five checks. And when you see your leaders getting physical, guys like Leon and and Connor and Nuge (Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins), it’s contagious and I think it pays off over the long haul,” said Woodcroft.
They only needed the one goal by Draisaitl, his second PP goal of the series. He hammered it over Quick’s shoulder. “Man, what a shot. He threaded the eye of the needle,” said Woodcroft, who rolled four lines and only had to play Draisaitl 15 minutes and McDavid 16.
That was all the cushion Smith needed. He sold an interference call in the crease on ex Oiler Andreas Athanasiou and they connected on Draisaitl’s shot from his office by the face-off circle. And, he stopped everything the Kings threw his way, in a cool and collected 60 minutes. “That is a true pro. It was an unfortunate puck-handle in Game 1 but I thought he made some really good saves in that one. Tonight, he was another one of our unsung heroes,” said Woodcroft.
“To be honest, I really didn’t feel too bad in Game 1. I made one bad play and it cost us the game,” said Smith, who was handling the puck with his usual dexterity in Game 2, as if nothing happened before. “I think I just carried the same kind of mindset into tonight and obviously wanted to put in a good showing, especially after you feel like you’re maybe the cause of the loss.”
After their opening win at Rogers Place, the Kings were playing with house money, knowing they were going to get no worse than a split going home for Game 3 and Game 4 Friday and Sunday. But after the morning skate L.A. coach Todd McLellan scoffed at stopping at just one victory.
“Nobody goes to Vegas to lose the house money they’ve won. The pressure on us is different than the pressure that’s on Edmonton. Nobody picked us to win, maybe two media guys. We’re the underdogs, and that’s fine.”
The Oilers weren’t exactly the overdogs with only a five-point (104-99) advantage over 82 games, but they played Game 2 with desperation and inspiration. It was a far different story than Game 1.
There was far too much commotion on the heels of the emotion from the crowd of 18,347 who were roaring from the time Robert Clark, standing in the seats with an Oilers sweater, belted out the last chords of O Canada. On Wednesday, they channelled it much better; they weren’t running all over the place.
“There was lots of energy (in the building) but you can’t fall into a trap. Maybe we did,” said Draisaitl, who got the 3-3 equalizer in the middle frame on Monday, but, falling into the early hole, was damaging. “We had some spurts (offence) but it wasn’t enough or consistent enough.”
Teams that lose the first two games of a best of seven have about a 13 per cent chance of rallying in NHL history, so the Oilers victory in Game 2 wasn’t just necessary but critical.
“Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the opposition. They played a really good game. Secondly there’s experience. A lot of our (young) guys had their eyes opened tonight in terms of what the playoffs are all about,” said McLellan.
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