As good as the Edmonton Oilers looked over the final month of the season, the thought of having them open the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place was something which didn’t sit well with yours truly. Whether the masses wanted to admit it or not, unless we are talking about a team who had enjoyed at least a degree of success in recent post-season memory, the pressure that comes with opening on home-ice is quite real. And for a team with as little experience as this one, that moment can sometimes be a little much.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) April 14, 2017
After watching this group come out of the gate in the fashion they did during the first period of Game One against the San Jose Sharks, it looked as though my fears were perhaps a tad premature. However, by the time Melker Karlsson scored just over three minutes into overtime, reality had clearly set in. Over the course of the final forty plus minutes of action, the Oilers barely touched the puck as last year’s Stanley Cup finalists took over the proceedings.
Oilers Accepted Challenge
Which made last night’s game an almost “must win” scenario for Todd McLellan’s crew and while it was far from easy, his players passed their first real test of the post-season with flying colours. Again, no one should have been surprised with how the series opener ultimately played out but for this group to bounce back in the fashion they did, was a wonderful sign. The Sharks did carry the play for the first ten or so minutes of action but the Oilers started to impose their will and the results speak for themselves.
In what was a role reversal of sorts, Edmonton seemingly had the puck on their collective sticks all night long in eking out a 2-0 victory. As tends to be the case in many a playoff game, it was the opposition’s goaltender who kept this a one-goal game for much of the evening, as Martin Jones was rock solid in between the pipes for San Jose. To their credit, the Oilers did not seem to be the least bit frustrated and were ultimately rewarded for their continued efforts.
Connor McDavid has the whole hockey world in his hands.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 15, 2017
As memorable a moment as watching Connor McDavid flying down the wing and sliding a shot between Jones’ pads to seal the deal was, this was as complete a game as this group has played this year. This wasn’t about No. 97 and everyone else jumping on board. From top to bottom, the Oilers had few passengers on the evening and considering the importance of the moment, it was hard not to be impressed with what we were watching.
Zack Kassian turned back the clock to his days with the Vancouver Canucks and was a force every time he hit the ice. Be at even strength or on the penalty kill, the 26-year old was seemingly in the middle of everything and his physical play had Rogers Place jumping from start to finish. The second line of Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continued to impress but it was the play of the former first overall pick that stood out above the rest.
Contributions Up and Down the Lineup
Though the 24-year-old did not find his way onto the score sheet, he produced one of those playoff-type efforts all teams need to be successful during the post-season. Nugent-Hopkins was spectacular in a shutdown role, while continually creating offence at the other end of the rink. He led the team in shots on goal with five, takeaways with four and was more than willing to engage physically when called upon. In short, he made life hell for San Jose and was the perfect complement to McDavid.
Outside of their tendency to take a number of foolish penalties over the course of the first two games and, at times, being a tad preoccupied with trying to destroy everything that moved on the ice, McLellan had to be thrilled with the response he saw from his group. To be fair, you got the sense the Sharks were saving their bullets for another day and seemed perfectly fine heading home with a split but the potential for disaster was there…and the Oilers counter was priceless.
Big response by the Oilers tonight!
Physically dominating performance.
Oilers outhit Sharks 41-21 (Kassian/Larsson 6 each)
PK 6/6, 2 SHG
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 15, 2017
With the first hurdle in their playoff development now in the rearview mirror, the next step will be for Edmonton to find a way to transfer the pressure they faced over the last two games onto the Sharks. It won’t be easy, as San Jose will be ready to go come Sunday night but if the Oilers end up on the right side of the final score in Game Three, they will have accomplished just that and we will get to see how this group of players react to being the front-runner. My how times have changed.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.