The Edmonton Oilers are facing a challenging situation, having fallen behind 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in a series many hockey experts predicted they would win before the playoffs began. Game 3 ended in dramatic fashion, with the Kings winning 3-2 in overtime in a game where the officials were whistle-happy, calling 13 penalties in total. Yet, Edmonton found themselves tasked with killing off a penalty in overtime, and they were unable to do so, resulting in a controversial conclusion to the game.
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In the extra frame, Oilers’ forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took a penalty and on the ensuing penalty kill, the puck appeared to be high-sticked by Kings’ forward Gabe Vilardi in the Oilers’ end; however, play continued and moments later, Vilardi centered the puck in front to Trevor Moore and he buried it past goaltender Stuart Skinner.
Yet, while the Kings celebrated, the officials reviewed the play for a few minutes but could not conclusively determine whether Vilardi had used a high stick to make contact with the puck. The original call on the ice stood, resulting in a win for the Kings, which drew significant criticism from a large number of individuals. However, the missed call wasn’t the sole reason the Oilers lost Game 3, and moving forward, they need to focus on managing several aspects that are within their control if they want to turn the series around.
Oilers Took a Penalty That Led to the Controversial Missed Call
The hot topic of discussion from Game 3 was the missed call in overtime. Head coach Jay Woodcroft was asked about the play postgame and he responded in a composed manner, saying, “It’s a play where the greatest player in the world [McDavid] is two feet away as it happens, and his arm comes straight up in the air because he knows that it hit the stick, otherwise he wouldn’t put his arm in the air, he’d keep playing. It appears to me in the video that the puck is going straight up in a trajectory and [stops]. In the end, I’m going to go with the greatest player in the world who is three feet away.”
Moreover, former NHL player and now TSN analyst Matt Kassian, who isn’t in as a precarious position as Woodcroft, had a more candid assessment of the play, saying on TSN 1260’s postgame show, “The rotation of that puck changed, it 100% was hit with a high stick. What an atrocious, horrible, horribly embarrassing job by the league. Atrocious and horrible.” He added, “That was a high stick, it took five minutes, we all could see on all the screens, the rotation of the puck change, there was clear contact — that is absolute garbage. Absolute garbage. Embarrassing.”
All things considered, from this writer’s point of view, it did appear the puck was touched with a high stick. Still, it’s important to point out that the Oilers, unfortunately, put themselves in that position to begin with, being down a man in overtime again for the second time in three games, with a slashing penalty from Nugent-Hopkins. He said postgame, “Obviously I came down too hard, I think his stick might have broke. If you’re the ref, you can’t fault them for that. I come down too hard and break his stick, I have to be in a better position to not put myself in that situation.”
Whether Questionable Calls Were Made, the Oilers Need to Be Better
Overall, the power plays have been heavily in favour of Los Angeles. Game 3 was marked with 13 penalties being called in total, seven against the Oilers and six against the Kings. That said, we’ve seen in past NHL postseasons that officials have allowed minor physical infractions to go uncalled and let the players play with a little more physicality than in the regular season; however, it hasn’t been the case in this series and it certainly wasn’t the case in Game 3.
Oilers’ defenceman Mattias Ekholm was called for cross-checking during a board battle in the first period and Vincent Desharnais was the lone player given a roughing penalty during a scrum in the same period and in the third, Game 2’s goalscoring hero, Klim Kostin, was called for an interference penalty on Alex Iafallo. Still, the officials set the precedent early in the game of the type of penalties they’d call against Edmonton, and looking ahead, the team — fair or not — will have to maintain their physicality without being excessive. Moving forward, players like Desharnais, Kostin, Evander Kane and even Leon Draisaitl who’s been assessed three penalties in the series, will have to be mindful that they will be under the watchful eyes of the officials.
On top of that, the Oilers are the better offensive team with more top-heavy offensive power, but they failed to score at even strength in Game 3 and need more production at 5-on-5. At the same time, controversial calls against them or not, they’ve given up a lead in all three games of the series and need to buckle down to close out games and start looking more like the team that finished 14-0-1 in their last 15 games of the regular season.
Most importantly, they need more out of their supporting cast, like their top-six aces such as Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, who both set career-highs in points and combined for 73 goals in the regular season. They’ve combined for 20 shots in the first three games of this series, but both remain goalless in the postseason. While it’s true that the entire team needs to elevate their play, it’s especially crucial for their big point producers from the regular season to step up and start scoring.
Nevertheless, Game 4 is set to take place on April 23 at Crypto.com Arena and if the first three games are any indication of what’s to come, hockey fans are in for an entertaining and thrilling remainder of the series.
What do the Oilers need to do better to win Game 4? Have your say in the comments below!