There is worry anew in Oil Country after the Edmonton Oilers lost 4-3 to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series at Rogers Place on Monday (May 2).
Fans were left smacking their foreheads in disbelief after an awful giveaway by Edmonton goalie Mike Smith led to Kings forward Philip Danault’s winning goal with 5:14 remaining in the third period.
Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Kailer Yamamoto scored for the Oilers, who stumbled out of the gate but battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. The players clearly were impacted, perhaps both positively and negatively, by an electric atmosphere, as more than 18,000 fans packed the house for the Oilers’ first home playoff game with spectators permitted in over five years.
The night started with many believing this was the year that Draisaitl and McDavid could lead the Oilers on a run and capture some of the playoff success that has eluded them thus far. Now there is tension in Oil Country, where the home team is down 1-0 and must not only grapple with a Kings team that is clearly up to the task, but a history that they so far haven’t been able to escape. Will they be able to bounce back? Here are three takeaways from Monday’s outing.
Oilers’ Troubling Playoff Trends
There are several troubling postseason streaks and slumps attached to the Oilers, all of which were prolonged with Monday’s loss. Some are just curious bits of trivia but others are much more relevant.
For one, home-ice advantage has been anything but since the Oilers moved to Rogers Place in 2016. They are now 4-9 overall (2-8 in the last 10) in the postseason at their current home arena, including games contested in the playoff bubble in 2020. They are now 3-4 at Rogers Place in the playoffs when fans are in attendance.
Also of concern is Edmonton’s habit of getting behind the eight ball during the playoffs, a trend that actually stretches back much further than the current generation of Oilers. With McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers are 1-4 in Game 1 of a series, including 0-4 at home. As a franchise, they are just 4-13 going back to 1997 and haven’t won a series-opener on home ice since defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the 1990 Campbell Conference Final.
How Should Fans Feel About Smith?
Even when the Oilers were playing their very best and looking like legit contenders this season, there has always been unease about their goaltending, and if the duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen was good enough to succeed in the spring. Smith’s phenomenal play to close out the season, in which he went 9-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in April, was enough to inspire hope. But it wasn’t enough to erase fears, and in an instant on Monday night, that sense of dread was unfortunately validated.
With just over five minutes to play and overtime looming in a 3-3 game, Smith inexplicably attempted a clearance from behind his net and put the puck squarely on the stick of the Kings’ Alex Iafallo, who had a wide-open net to shoot at from the slot. Somehow, Smith made an incredible diving save on him, but in the ensuing chaos, Danault gathered the puck up and slid it between the post and Smith into the back of the cage.
Smith is now 0-6 in the playoffs as a member of the Oilers and has lost 10 straight games in the postseason, going back to 2019 with the Calgary Flames. Smith’s last win came nearly 10 years ago when he was with the Arizona Coyotes against, coincidentally, the Kings in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on May 20, 2012.
To his credit, Smith owned his gaffe during Edmonton’s postgame press conference: “I was just trying to make something happen, obviously trying to do too much there, and in a tight game you can’t afford to make mistakes like that, and it ended up costing us the game,” the goalie said. “Obviously I’m disappointed, but it’s one game and we’ll move on and worry about Game 2.”
Oilers Need to Show More Resiliency
The comments from Smith and captain McDavid, who took part in the press conference alongside Edmonton’s beleaguered goalie, reflected a teamwide attitude of accountability, while their ability to rally on multiple occasions demonstrated a spirit of resiliency that should provide some encouragement among justly concerned fans.
“There was lots of emotion with fans back in the building, excitement, and I thought we just didn’t handle it all that well,” McDavid said. “They got the jump on us and I thought we did a great job getting ourselves back in the game and giving ourselves a chance and ultimately it’s one bounce.”
In the only playoff series that McDavid has won since coming into the NHL in 2015-16, Edmonton lost Game 1 of the 2017 first round against the San Jose Sharks at home in a similarly crushing fashion (blowing a 2-0 lead and losing 3-2 in overtime), but rallied to win Game 2 and ultimately took the series in six games.
This genuinely appears to be a different Oilers team than the one that bowed out far too early in the past two postseasons (3-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020, 4-0 to the Winnipeg Jets last spring). Now they need to prove it in Game 2 on Wednesday (May 4), because the difference between evening the series at 1-1 and falling behind 2-0 with the next two games on the road is massive.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.