Dropping the series opener to the Winnipeg Jets was a disappointment, but the Edmonton Oilers aren’t stressing out as they prepare to host Game 2 on Friday night.
Despite losing 4-1 Wednesday and being well aware of the history when teams fall in a Stanley Cup playoff curtain-raiser, the Oilers still have plenty of confidence in the best-of-seven series.
“I actually didn’t mind our game,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who easily led the NHL with 105 points during the regular season but failed to register a point Wednesday. “I thought we did a lot of good things. I thought we had the puck a lot of the night and played in their zone. We put a lot of pucks through; we just didn’t find a way to get one. That’s the way it goes. They get a tip. We don’t. That’s playoff hockey.”
Granted, the Oilers finished with a 33-22 edge in shots, and Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was especially strong early in the second period and in the final 10 minutes while the game was in question. However, nobody from Edmonton should be fooling themselves. The Oilers’ attack lacked that extra push to generate the best possible scoring chance as well as the determination to cash in a rebound.
The Jets deservedly won the opener by having more determination than the hosts.
“We were trying to do the right thing; we just didn’t get it done,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “You have to make your breaks, find ways to get the puck in the back of the net. When it doesn’t go in, you have to stay with it. That’s how I expected all the games to be; they’re going to be tight. That’s playoff hockey at its best.”
“It’s the playoffs, every team takes a step and plays close to the top of their capabilities this time of year,” Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse added. “That’s what we expected coming into this series. We didn’t think we were just going to show up and they’d hand us wins night after night. It was a good game, a hard game, and it’s just going to get harder and harder from here.”
The Jets might receive a boost for Friday’s clash. Second-line center Pierre-Luc Dubois practiced fully Thursday and could play. Injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers was on the ice with a non-contact jersey, but a return is looming, too.
“There is a chance,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice of the potential to have a pair of top-six players back in action. “We’ll get them in (Friday) and make that decision. Two more days has been really good for both of them, but it’s premature for me to put them in tomorrow as of what I know today.”
Meanwhile, the Jets will prepare for a counter-punch from the Oilers, particularly their dynamic duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
“That’s what you expect come playoffs. Can’t make it easy for them,” Hellebuyck said. “We know they are going to come with some fire next game;, we need to come prepared for that.”
Having Hellebuyck, last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, helps the cause — and the Jets know it.
“Our confidence is directly tied to him,” captain Blake Wheeler said of Hellebuyck. “The way he carries himself gives us confidence every single night, and we know that goaltending means a lot this time of year and we have, we believe, the best goaltender in the league, so that gives us a ton of confidence.”
–Field Level Media