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One life to live just became no life to live for the Edmonton Oilers.
The 12th-seed Chicago Blackhawks burst the hub city home team’s bubble Friday, kicking the malfunctioning Oilers to the Stanley Cup tournament curb with a 3-2 win in Game 4, and really, the Oilers didn’t even get to the playoffs which is 16 teams on any other year. Not 24 teams.
The Oilers didn’t even last a week; there was no hubba, hubba headline because their overall game was nowhere near as pretty as it looked for much of regular-season.
More commotion than emotion, never a good thing in the playoffs.
Oiler defenceman Darnell Nurse said the Oilers never got the intensity level up to where it was, say, against Calgary in the tournament tune-up. Their battle-level was in and out against a Chicago team that has a toolbox full of skill but isn’t big and doesn’t play tough, but has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brandon Saad, who know how to win.
Toews was terrific, even better than the usual Oiler giant-killer Kane had a quiet four games by his standards.
“The big part of our focus was to bring that intensity but the most we had was the exhibition game with Calgary … but it shouldn’t matter who you’re playing against at this time of year,” said Nurse.
“Well, we can’t play Calgary every game,” said Connor McDavid, who had 10 points in the series.
“End of this day, you play to give yourself a chance at the Stanley Cup and we didn’t even get to the playoffs, the round of 16, losing in the qualifier. You can talk about strides all you want but no one’s happy,” said Nurse.
And, so we now have to know how to spell Lafreniere?
The Oilers are sadly in the draft lottery, again, with a 12.5 per cent chance at getting a shot at Alexei Lafreniere, the gifted left-winger.
They aren’t alone. So is Pittsburgh, also out. Toronto rallied to stay alive against Columbus but Winnipeg’s also done.
McDavid, Draisaitl, Crosby, Malkin, Scheifele, Laine … That’s a lot of star power short-circuited in the play-in round, underscoring how tenuous best-of-fives are.
“We never really got our A-game going,” said Draisaitl, who had six points.
The Oilers looked shell-shocked in Game 1, coach Dave Tippett’s words, and there’s not a lot of runway left when you lose the opener. They scored on the first shift in two of the games and two and-a-half minutes into another game, they got ample offence out of McDavid and Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored on a power play while Josh Archibald got the game’s first goal 45 seconds in.
But they didn’t do the job as a team when they didn’t have the puck, and it cost them dearly against a team just happy to be here.
“It’s frustrating, for sure we expected better … we overachieved a bit in regular season and it feels like we underachieved in this series,” said Tippett, whose team was only one win from being in the round-robin seeding portion, rather than Dallas, and now they’re crushingly done.
Hawks’ rookie Dominik Kubalik, who had five points in the series opener, squeezed one through Mikko Koskinen eight minutes into the third for the knife to the Oilers heart. Toews, the best player in the series, out-fought a game Ethan Bear, who came back from being battle shaken up after being plowed into the glass by Alex DeBrincat, to get the puck into the wheelhouse of the rookie winger who had a free-look—a metaphor for the series.
The Hawks won more battles and the Oilers didn’t get good enough goaltending. They gave up fewer than 10 scoring chances five-on-five in Games 3 and 4, but they kept shooting themselves in the foot.
“We made critical mistakes and didn’t get the saves at the right time. You have to find ways to win games, not find ways to lose games,” said Tippett. “I think our team competed hard, we got lots of try but have a lot of growing to do … because what we think is competing hard isn’t hard enough to win in the playoffs.”
Koskinen and Mike Smith, who started Game 1, are huge but neither stood tall in this series. They didn’t lose it, but they didn’t steal any games either. Neither goalie looked anywhere near as cool or collected as they did coming into this hub tournament in the middle of a pandemic.
Not that Corey Crawford looked like the Cup winner much of the series, but he did on Black Friday, especially in the second half of the game, finishing with 41 stops, many in wild goalmouth flurries.
He got lucky before Kubalik’s goal when Andreas Athanasiou had a wide-open net and shovelled it wide, again the story of his time as an Oiler. His skating battery never runs out, but after scoring in his first game after the Feb. 24 trade, he went the last 12 without one.
And so, so the Oilers are out, a crushing blow to the Oilers Entertainment Group who fought to get Edmonton as the Western hub for the 12 teams.
This ’n that: Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson again was absent with an undisclosed injury. When Bear also got hurt, that left a big hole for right-shot D with only Matt Benning left for much of the second period … William Lagesson took the pre-game warmup as a seventh defenceman but he didn’t dress. Neither did winger Patrick Russell. Instead they went with the speedier Gaetan Haas on the fourth line at centre … McDavid had his teeth looked at after Kampf flipped puck and hit him in the mouth in the second period.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020