After what felt like an eternity, the Edmonton Oilers finally opened their postseason account on Wednesday night, playing host to the same Winnipeg Jets team they’ve handled comfortably for the bulk of the 20/21 NHL season. Mike Smith, still basking in the revelatory glow of an age-defying wonderseason, got the nod for the hosts. Connor Hellebuyck, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, went for the visitors.
This game got off to a slow start and, unfortunately for us — and especially for the 12 or so fans they let into the building tonight — it never really got going at any point in the opening period.
Neither team could string together a couple of passes, let alone a couple of shifts of offensive pressure, and most chances were either one and done or just done. The Jets were without both Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre Luc Dubois in this one, so they had a bit of an excuse, but Edmonton’s top talent — minus Tyler Ennis, for some reason — was present and accounted for tonight and would have hoped for more than 6 shots on goal after 20 minutes. I know I’d hoped for a brighter start than 0 shots on goal in the first 8 minutes:
Tentative start for the Oilers here. 0 shots on net after 8 and change.— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) May 20, 2021
Jesse Puljujarvi was a rare bright spot for the home side. Connor McDavid was subdued — by his exceptional standards at least — for most of the period but did generate a couple of great looks off the rush toward the end. He couldn’t manufacture the opening goal but it was a good sign heading into the break.
Mike Smith was good enough in the first, too, stopping all 6 shots he faced. His best moment was probably a nice stop on a Kristian Vesalainen shot off the rush. He was also pretty fortunate to see a dangerous Mark Scheifele effort sail just over on a 3-on-1 later after the first pair had one of their handful of wobbly moments.
Honors even after 20 minutes, 0-0.
A much better start from Edmonton in the second period saw them generate a few really nice looks almost immediately. First, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was on the receiving end of a nice pass from Slater Koekkoek — in for Caleb Jones and, honestly, pretty solid so far — in the slot, but he couldn’t beat Hellebuyck.
Shortly afterward, James Neal redirected a sneakily dangerous one toward net but again Hellebuyck fought it off.
This became a bit of a theme for the first half of the period until the Oilers finally broke through on the back of, for my money, their best player so far tonight: Jesse Puljujarvi. A Tyson Barrie shot from the point hit a body in front and fell kindly for Puljujarvi to pounce on. He did, and two touches later it was off his stick and past Hellebuyck. 1-0. LFG.
Exuberance. Wonderousness. You absolutely love to see it. My two cats did not.
But the good times didn’t last. Less than 3 minutes later, Tucker Poolman and Blake Wheeler conspired to tie the game. 1-1.
The Oilers kept pushing and eventually earned the game’s first power play — a high stick on Kailer Yamamoto’s poor face — but they couldn’t do much with it. In fact, it might have been one of those momentum-killing power plays.
Winnipeg was able to kill it, and the rest of the period went scoreless.
Edmonton continued to control the run of play in the third, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t poke another one past Hellebuyck, Winnipeg scored 3 goals on the bounce — 2 into an empty net in the last handful of minutes — and Edmonton couldn’t translate their sizeable shot, attempt, and scoring chance advantage into a result.
A 1-4 final after a frustrating night that just didn’t go their way. They did enough to win, but didn’t. It happens sometimes. It happens more often when guys like Alex Chiasson get shifts in the last 3 minutes of a game like that and Dave Tippett goes home with another time out in his back pocket.
Can you pinpoint the part of the recap I had to write when the result was final?
Disappointing. They played well enough to win and didn’t, and if you’ll recall, that’s a pretty similar script to their previous foray into the postseason. Forgive me if I’m a little nervous.
Dave Tippett fucked around with his lineup and found out— x - Copper & Blue (@CopperandBlue) May 20, 2021
Look, maybe this is harsh on Tippett. His Oilers were good enough to win this game most of the time but they didn’t. Is it hard luck or is he outsmarting himself? Zack Kassian coming in after a long absence and positively affecting the game is a risky proposition. Tyler Ennis not playing for an Oilers team still desperate for offense away from its best player is another curious decision. Koekkoek, too. Even if he had some good moments tonight.
Also. If they’re only going to draw one penalty a game in this series, my Oilers in 6 prediction might just be in trouble.
That’s how many points Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for tonight. That’s typically not a winning formula for this team.
Game 2. Friday. 7PM. LFG.