On April 30, 1986, on Steve Smith’s 23rd birthday, the Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman scored an own goal during Game 7 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a backbreaker against a lower-ranked Calgary Flames team. Smith put the puck off goaltender Grant Fuhr from the side of the net. The goal ended a potential streak of three consecutive Stanley Cup wins. It took decades for Smith to live that goal down, but the Oilers shouldn’t have put themselves in that position against the Flames. Likewise, the Flames had no business being in a Game 7 against the Oilers. They were good, but not that good.
On Wednesday night, Oilers’ 23-year-old defenseman Ethan Bear, who had so far played a tremendous series, put his stick on the ice between goaltender Mikko Koskinen and shooter Connor Murphy of the Chicago Blackhawks to deflect the puck in for an own goal. The goal scored at 18:44 secured a 4-3 win for the Blackhawks. Somewhere Don Cherry is losing his mind.
The Oilers, in their five-game first-round playoff series, are now one game away from being eliminated by a team that otherwise – in any other year – would likely not be in the playoffs, based on how their regular season played out.
Oilers Over-Aggressive on Forecheck
The Oilers didn’t help their cause when they took six minor penalties to the Blackhawks’ three. All six came from over-aggressive play and were unnecessary. Edmonton will have to clean up their undisciplined fore-check. But like Smith’s straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back goal in 1986, the Oilers shouldn’t have been in that position late in the game.
“Obviously disappointing, no question,” said Leon Draisaitl, post-game. “I think we have to be more disciplined. It is an unfortunate loss.”
When asked about the referees calling the game tight, Draisaitl said, “I am not going to comment on the refs. We have a great penalty kill, but it is obviously taxing on those guys.”
The string of minors kept McDavid and Draisaitl off the ice for an extended period of time from late in the first period to the middle of the second.
To add insult to injury, the Oilers lost a quality second-line forward in Tyler Ennis, who was checked behind the net by 6-foot-4, 200-pound 19-year-old Kirby Dach. Ennis left the ice under assistance and by all appearances is done for the postseason.
In regard to the must-win scenario, Draisaitl added, “We all know the situation we are in right now. We have to prepare for back-to-back wins and do what we have to win.”
“We had a lot more jump for this game. We will have to have that jump again for the next game because we know they will be up for us Friday,” said Connor Murphy.
Back-to-Back Three-Point Games – an Oilers Record
In Games 1 and 2, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid became the first Oilers in history to pick up back-to-back three-point games to open a series. Draisaitl had his own three-point game in the losing cause, scoring twice and picking up an assist on McDavid’s fifth goal of the series at 19:52 of the second period.
Either McDavid or Draisaitl has been on the ice for 12 of the Oilers’ first 13 goals in the series and between them have scored eight of the team’s 13 goals. Although the Oilers’ lack of depth is a bit of a misconception, losing Ennis didn’t help and players like James Neal and Zack Kassian will need to contribute more. Although, Neal did have a prototypical power forward third-period in Game 2, picking up two points while pressuring the Blackhawks’ defense.
During Game 1, the Blackhawks focussed on shutting down McDavid, during 5-on-5 play. In Game 2 Draisaitl was their target. During Game 3, the Blackhawks seemed to prefer to employ a five-man active rush and 200-foot game.
The Blackhawks Tactics
The Blackhawks opened the scoring at 9:14 of the first period when defender Olli Maatta fired the puck a few feet in from the blue line. Twenty-eight seconds later, Draisaitl steamrolled down the right side, went over top the Blackhawks defender with a move much like Jagr, and buried the puck past goaltender Corey Crawford.
Jonathan Toews, frustrated at missing on quite a few golden opportunities, had the puck seemingly headed into the net late in the third period when it nicked off the inside of the left post and ricochet out. How it didn’t go in is the stuff of luck and millimetres.
Kailer Yamamoto earned trips to the penalty box for his over-aggressive play. The second penalty came early in the second period for boarding. The Oilers were assessed four minors in a span of 8:34 between 18:00 of the first period and 6:34 of the second. Although the Blackhawks didn’t capitalize, like their lethal power play, the Oilers cannot rely on their stingy kill either.
ICECHIPS: Tyler Ennis skated off with an apparent leg and perhaps ACL injury after the full flight Dach hit into the end boards. Meanwhile, Vancouver Canucks power forward Michael Ferland, who has tried to rehabilitate from post-concussion symptoms for nearly two years was declared unfit to play and has left the bubble, after two games. If he is again fighting post-concussion syndrome, expect him to announce his retirement soon. In the parlance of the oft-used phrase, anything can and often does happen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the league’s two most premiere players are on the brink of elimination in Sidney Crosby with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Connor McDavid.