With this series starting in Anaheim all I wanted out of the first two games was a single win, for the Oilers to steal home ice advantage. The Oilers’ 5-3 win on Wednesday night did just that. So tonight I was really just looking for a good game, one that improved on some of the areas that the Oilers struggled in during Game 1. A win would obviously be nice but I didn’t want to get greedy.
Things got going fast for the Oilers tonight. Like first shot on goal fast. Before I had even poured myself a beer fast. It was Andrej Sekera putting the Oilers on the board with an unassisted goal - his first of the playoffs - from a rather bad angle at the top of the faceoff circle. 65 seconds into the game, on the road, and you’re up a goal, there’s a lot to like about a start like that. Unfortunately from there on though, the first period was a little bit bumpy. Which is putting it nicely.
The Oilers were out-shot by a 12-3 count in the period - good thing that first shot went in - and aside from a couple of rushes from Connor McDavid, who thankfully looked like Connor McDavid again tonight, the team generated a whole lot of nothing for the rest of the first frame. If it wasn’t for Cam Talbot, who made 12 first period saves, many on shots from high danger areas and a few more late in the period when the Oilers were killing a goaltender interference penalty, the Ducks could have easily finished the period not only tied with the Oilers, but possibly with the lead as well.
I obviously don’t know what Todd McLellan said to his team during the first intermission, perhaps it was a gentle reminder that they’re good hockey players and their mothers love them, or maybe he screamed and threw a couple garbage cans around the room. Whatever it was it worked and things improved in the second period for the Oilers. Initially, at least.
The team settled in early, looked like they belonged in the game, and started moving the puck in the right direction a little more frequently. Rewarded for their improved play with a power play opportunity after Zack Kassian was held behind the Ducks net, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle treated fans to some excellent hockeying before Eberle’s shot (pass?) deflected off the skate of Patrick Maroon and behind John Gibson to make it 2-0 for the Oilers. Friendly reminder: Anaheim is paid part of Maroon’s salary this season. Something about that makes me smile.
In the thirteenth minute of the period suspect refereeing once again reared it’s ugly head, and that was then followed by the ice appearing to be tilted towards the Oilers net. The Oilers penalty that started this, a holding call on Kassian, came shortly after a hold on McDavid was missed. The referee was looking right at McDavid so you can understand how the call was missed. I may not like it but I can accept that the threshold for penalties is different in the playoffs, but either both of those are penalties or neither is, calling just one is ridiculous.
The Oilers killed that penalty though, thanks once again in large part to the strong play of Cam Talbot. However the next penalty, a careless high stick from Darnell Nurse on Jared Boll in the Oilers crease, would be a different story. 20 seconds into the Ducks power play, 20 seconds during which the Oilers never touched the puck, Jakob Silfverberg’s shot beat Talbot to cut the Oilers lead to one. Before the end of the second period the Oilers would get a power play of their own, the result of a high stick on Benoit Pouliot - this game had a weird penalty balancing thing going on - but the Oilers were be unable to restore their two goal lead.
The third period was more of the same. The Ducks pressed hard, the Oilers did little to push back, and Talbot did his very best impression of a wall. There were times, moments really, when the Oilers looked like their plan for the game’s final 20 minutes might be something more than “In Cam We Trust” but those moments were few are far between. It was all Ducks all the time. Shots in the third period were 16-11 for the Ducks - I have no idea when the Oilers took 11 shots - and the shot attempts were even more unbalanced, finishing with 29 for the Ducks compared to just 16 for the Oilers; the final tally on the night was 84-47.
But Talbot was unbeatable stopping 39 of the 40 shots he faced. In a game that the Oilers had absolutely no business winning, Talbot stole this one for his team with a little help from his posts - the Ducks beat Talbot twice in the third period but couldn’t beat the post as well. And so the Oilers leave Anaheim with a two-games-to-none lead and a stranglehold on this Pacific Division Final. I didn’t go into the game looking for this but I am certainly going to enjoy this win.