Hate to be the guy who said I told you so but I told you so. It may not have been pretty but thanks to a quick start, another huge goal from the power play and a stellar performance from netminder Cam Talbot, the Edmonton Oilers are heading home with a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Anaheim Ducks and have yet to play a complete 60 minutes. Isn’t playoff hockey great?
At this time of year, expecting a team to come out and play the perfect game on nightly basis is about as unrealistic as it gets. With today’s NHL being as balanced and tight checking as it is, almost every series will be filled with its share of ups and downs. The teams that usually tend to come out on top are the ones that can make adjustments to their game on the fly. Through the first couple games, there is little question the Ducks have been the better of the two but the Oilers continue to find ways to win games.
— NHL (@NHL) April 29, 2017
The bend but don’t break routine worked to perfection on Friday night and it wasn’t all on their goaltender. Make no mistake, Talbot was locked-in from start to finish, turning aside 39 of the 40 pucks fired his way, but chances are none of that would have mattered without Edmonton getting off to the kind of start they did. That’s right, in a period in which they were outshot 12-3 and seemingly under siege for the final 10 minutes of the frame, it was those first 10 minutes that set the tone for the evening.
Instead of simply sitting back and trying to survive the opening period barrage that was all but guaranteed to come, this group did the complete opposite. Thanks in large part to a rejuvenated Connor McDavid and a “perfectly-timed” misstep from Ducks starter John Gibson, the Oilers were able to grab an early lead and plant that seed of doubt. With No. 97 flying up and down the rink it seemed as though Randy Carlyle’s crew were going to be in for a long night but to their credit, Anaheim managed to turned the tide.
Talbot Continues to Prove His Worth
However, the Oilers quick start gave them the opportunity to take a collective breath and settle into what was always going to be an evening about survival. The combination of watching Andrej Sekera’s harmless looking point shot elude Gibson at the 1:05 mark and seeing their best player shred his way through the Ducks every time he stepped onto the ice was the exact tonic these players needed and their goaltender took care of the rest.
With a one goal lead in his backpocket and focused on bouncing back from rough third period in the series opener, Talbot did what we have seen countless goaltenders do time and time again during the NHL Playoffs. There is no doubt who was the better team over the course of the final 50 minutes but the guy wearing No. 33 on his back played the role of equalizer and the Oilers have no reason to apologize for it.
After going 23-59-18 vs the West 2014-16 the @EdmontonOilers are now 39-13-6 vs West this season (regular season and play-offs)
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 29, 2017
Contrary to popular belief, at this time of year there is absolutely nothing wrong with having your goalie go out and “steal” the occasional game. In fact, it is almost a necessity and because these players have the belief that Talbot can do just that, it changes the entire equation and it shows on the ice. Even after his hiccup in Game One, there was no one inside that dressing room who wasn’t banking on the notion he would be far better in Game Two and he did not disappoint.
The best thing about Talbot is doesn’t take long to recognize if he is on his game or is likely to have one of those nights in which he is going to have to battle from start to finish. Both his rebound control and positioning seemed a bit off in the opener and it came back to bite him in the third. Fortunately for him, his teammates were able to bail him out but there would be no need for such a rescue this time around.
These Oilers Are the Real Deal
From the crucial pad stop he made on Ryan Getzlaf with five minutes to play in the first, to the final scramble at the end of the third, Talbot was on point throughout and there was little Anaheim could do about it. Outside of Jakob Silfverberg’s second period marker, the 29-year old seemingly found every puck thrown in his direction and was in the zone that almost every goaltender finds from time to time. There were no signs of ugly rebounds finding their way into the slot or looking as if he was guessing as to what might come next.
It was as clinical a performance as a guy like Cam Talbot can deliver. There was nothing flashy about it but man was it fun to watch and with every stop he made, the more resilient the rest of the team became. It was awfully impressive to watch and somewhat unexpected. After all, it was the kind of response we have come to expect from an experienced roster…which is the complete opposite of what the Edmonton Oilers are rolling out on a nightly basis. Again, isn’t playoff hockey great?
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.