When I was a small child, my grandfather used to say things like “you’ve got a tiger by the tail” when I was in over my head; I always thought he was being ridiculous. After all, what was the chances I’d ever have a tiger by the tail. Whatever it is was definitely not an actual tiger. Ahhh, the literal nature of a young child.
I was reminded of that saying this weekend as the Oil Kings had a literal tiger by the tail. After having dominated the series with Medicine Hat over the course of the 2018-2019, the Oil Kings were positioned to be favourites coming into the series.
After all, they were on an 11 game straight to finish the season, won the divisional title, and brought WHL playoff hockey back to Edmonton for the first time in just about three years. After having surprised everyone and positioned themselves as a team to consider, the Oil Kings opened their playoff series against the Tigers on Saturday night. And they had a tiger by the tail... The Medicine Hat Tigers entered their series with the Oil Kings ready to prove they should be the centre of attention.
And much like the moral in the phrase from my grandfather, there must be due care taken not to be eaten when holding on to a Tiger (or a team of players wearing a tiger). The Oil Kings didn’t appear to have given the situation the consideration it deserves. Much like my antics as child. Rushing in and falling down. (Or if I’m being plain spoken, I think they got cocky and Medicine Hat proved to them why that’s a bad idea. Especially in the playoffs against a team that plays the same style as you do.)
The Tigers came ready to make their mark and the Oil Kings appeared flat and disorganized. Some of the decision making and passing choices on the ice were questionable at best. The 2-1 final for the Tigers actually flatters the Oil Kings play for the majority of the game. Both goaltenders (Msykiw and Sogaard) looked excellent on Saturday night. Sogaard weathered the storm early and Msykiw kept the Oil Kings in the game for the majority of the second and third periods.
It was not the return to playoffs that their fans had been hoping for. They didn’t look like a team that had won 11 straight and been one of the biggest surprises in the Central Division. They looked like a team that needed to reset and get their head back in the game.
The Oil Kings had some bounce back on Sunday. They started well early, but seemed to think they were a model for constructive criticism because the middle of the game was just full of areas to improve, but they finished very strong. The Oil Kings trailed the Tigers 3-2 going into the third period but found a way to pull out a victory 4-3. Their strong finish will hopefully give the Oil Kings a good base to build on as the series relocates to Medicine Hat. A franchise with a well-established and vocal fan base, the Tigers home arena won’t be an easy one for the Oil Kings to win in, but the team has done it before. They just have to remember what worked for them in the past and maybe dial those things up to 12… it is the playoffs after all.
With the series tied at one and the next two games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Oil Kings will be looking to spoil the party in Medicine Hat. A win of the road keeps the series level and means the Oil Kings won’t be playing to avoid elimination when they return to Rogers Place on Friday night for game five of the series. It also allows them to build on what was working for them at the end of game two. And if they can win one of the games in Medicine Hat, it sort of levels the playing field.
One thing is certain now though. The Oil Kings know they’re holding a Tiger by the tail and first wildcard or divisional champion, the Oil Kings know they’re going to have to earn every inch in this series.
Tickets for the only form of playoff hockey Rogers Place is likely to see this season are now on sale.