The Winnipeg Jets won the game, but Edmonton Oilers’ new-look lines gave them all they could handle in Game 3 of their first-round series.
Oilers Brought Out New-Look Lines for Game 3
With his heavily-favoured team scoring only one goal in the first two games of the series, Oilers’ head coach Dave Tippett made some changes to his lineup ahead of Game 3. He took out Alex Chiasson, Dominik Kahun, and James Neal and inserted Gaetan Haas, Tyler Ennis, and Devon Shore, hoping to add some additional speed to his lineup.
Tippett also elevated Ryan McLeod to second-line centre alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — bumped to wing as a result of McLeod’s promotion — and Zack Kassian. In Games 1 and 2, McLeod was the third-line centre while Kassian was the third line right-winger.
The newly-inserted Haas and Ennis skated on the fourth line with Kailer Yamamoto, at centre and right wing, respectively.
Oilers’ Top Line Benefitted From Momentum Built By Bottom Six
The Oilers’ new-look lines set the tone early for a very different evening.
Playing a high-octane game and forechecking relentlessly from opening puck-drop, the third and fourth lines had strong offensive-zone shifts in the first 10 minutes that tilted the ice early.
The energy those shifts injected into the visitors directly led to their top line — the “nuclear option” of Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Jesse Puljujarvi that stayed intact for a second-straight contest — finally breaking out.
Draisaitl and McDavid had been held off the scoresheet in the first two games of the series, but the NHL’s two most pre-eminent point-producers cashed in twice, once at even strength and once on the power play.
The Jets, who played a stifling and hard-checking defensive style in Games 1 and 2 to much success, looked stunned by the Oilers’ speed. All four Oilers’ lines found time and space to carry the puck into the offensive zone without much trouble and fired 17 shots in the first period.
Jets Pushed Back in Second, But Oilers’ Balanced Attack Kept Them In Front
In the first intermission, defenseman Josh Morrissey promised the Jets would regroup and get back to the hard forecheck that successfully shut down the Oilers’ stars in Games 1 and 2.
They did that, with the second line of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Paul Stastny, and Nikolaj Ehlers — who returned to the lineup after missing a month with an upper-body injury — generating some good chances in the first half of the second frame.
But the Oilers held onto their two-goal cushion through most of the period. Most notably, it was their tenacious fourth line that likely exceeded Tippett’s expectations most of all, being fast on pucks and a handful for the Jets’ defenders.
It wasn’t until toward the end of the frame the Jets were finally able to put one past Mike Smith. Fittingly, it was Ehlers who ripped one by the veteran netminder on the power play after Smith lost his stick.
But Draisaitl and McDavid, having rediscovered their swagger, helped their side regain the two-goal lead 1:04 later. On a 3-on-2 rush, McDavid got the puck to Kassian, who fired it blocker-side past Hellebuyck. Mark Scheifele was a step behind on the play.
Oilers’ Third Line Seemingly Put the Game Away in Third Period…
After doing good work through 40 minutes, the Oilers’ third line got a well-deserved goal when Jujhar Khaira tipped home an Adam Larsson shot at 4:43 to push the lead to 4-1. Shore also had an assist on the play.
The fourth line — which will certainly be together for Game 4 — was rewarded with power play time thereafter when Dylan DeMelo took a puck-over-glass delay of game penalty.
…But Then They Made a Crucial Mistake
The game seemed to be secure for the Oilers, but then the Jets orchestrated an improbable comeback.
It all started when Josh Archibald took a needless penalty for low-bridging Logan Stanley (it was called tripping) at 11:11. The dirty play sparked the Jets, and Mathieu Perreault scored on the ensuing man-advantage. Blake Wheeler and Morrissey then rattled off two goals in 16 seconds to tie the game.
Wheeler’s marker came with Shore, Archibald, and Khaira on the ice. Perreault’s came while Draisaitl and McDavid were out on the the penalty kill and Morrissey’s came against McDavid’s line as well.
Back-and-Forth Overtime Had Good Looks for Both Sides
Early in overtime, Yamamoto and Khaira had good chances as Tippett gave them a vote of confidence by playing them with the game on the line. But Hellebucyk stood tall.
At 9:13, Nikolaj Ehlers completed the comeback with a goal right off Paul Stastny’s face off win over Khaira. The marker would have sent Jets’ fans into an absolutely frenzy if they’d have been allowed to attend.
Jets Still Need to Refocus
Although they’re up 3-0 in the series, the Jets till need to regroup and get back to showing the strong collective resolve they exhibited in Games 1 and 2. The pace was too quick and the ice too open Sunday night, both things that favour the Oilers. Even though their Game 1 and 2 play wasn’t very exciting, comebacks can’t be counted on.
This series is not over yet. The Jets cannot allowed the Oilers’ freight train to get rumbling any more than it was in Game 3, because they’ll get squashed like a sedan sitting on the tracks in Game 4 if they do.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.