After being routed in Game 1, the Edmonton Oilers have to quickly get on track when they host the Chicago Blackhawks in the second game of their best-of-five Western Conference qualifying round series on Monday night.
The 6-4 result in Saturday’s Game 1 was perhaps a little flattering to the Oilers, who scored twice in the final four minutes to make the score respectable. In between those last four minutes and Connor McDavid’s opening score at 2:34 of the first period, however, Chicago dominated most of the play.
The Blackhawks responded to McDavid’s goal by building a 4-1 lead by the end of the opening period, and then led 6-2 after the first two frames. Chicago outshot Edmonton by a 42-29 margin in the game and outscored the Oilers 3-0 in even-strength play (the Oilers’ lone non-power-play goal came with the goaltender pulled, giving Edmonton a 6-on-5 advantage in skaters).
“I think a lot of it was just the work ethic by our forwards to get above the puck, so that we were in a good position to keep the momentum going, whether it’s pressure or to jump on the loose pucks,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton told reporters. “We were able to extend some shifts in the offensive zone….We know they’re a great transition team so we want to hold them down in their defensive zone as much as we can.”
Dominik Kubalik paced the offense with two goals and three assists, becoming the first player in NHL history to register five points in his first career postseason game. Kubalik also tied a Chicago team record for most points in a single playoff game, becoming the sixth Blackhawks player to hit the five-point plateau.
Both of Kubalik’s goals came on the power play, as Chicago was 3-for-6 with the extra attacker. It was an unexpected breakout performance given that the Blackhawks had the fourth-lowest power play percentage in the league during the regular season, and the Oilers boasted the second-best penalty killing numbers of any club.
“Once they got in (to our end), they beat us probably every which way you can on the penalty kill,” Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse said. “We’ll watch some film, get back at it, nothing we can do about it now. I think there’s a lot to learn from that game. We need to show up for Game 2 in a completely different mindset.”
Oilers goaltender Mike Smith allowed five goals on 23 shots before being pulled from the game. While Edmonton’s defensive breakdowns were more at fault than Smith for Chicago’s scoring, it seems probable that the Oilers will go with Mikko Koskinen between the pipes in Game 2.
Koskinen stopped 18 of 19 shots in relief of Smith on Saturday, allowing only a power-play goal from Kubalik. Game 1 marked the first playoff appearance of Koskinen’s NHL career, while the veteran Smith was making his 23rd postseason start.
Corey Crawford saved 25 of 29 shots in Game 1 and is expected to again serve as the Blackhawks’ starting goalie on Tuesday.
McDavid was involved in three of Edmonton’s scores in Game 1, as the star forward collected a goal and two assists.
Chicago entered the postseason as the 12th and final Western Conference playoff team after a 32-30-8 regular-season record, finishing nine points behind fifth-seeded Edmonton.
The Oilers have something of a unique home-ice advantage since all Western Conference playoff games (and the Stanley Cup Final) are being played in Edmonton, though the Oilers are staying within the same “bubble” environment as other teams throughout the postseason.
–Field Level Media