The Edmonton Oilers had one thing in mind coming into Game Three of their second round series with the Calgary Flames: to dictate terms on home-ice. Mission accomplished. Keeping that in mind, what comes next will be interesting to watch unfold. Jay Woodcroft’s side is in an enviable spot but as we have seen in this series, momentum can turn on a dime and the Oilers can’t allow for that to happen.
Four periods into the series, it looked as though the Flames might end this thing in a hurry. Granted, a good chunk of that success could be linked to Edmonton’s goaltending but they righted the ship in short order. It’s crazy how far the pendulum has swung in this series and in such a short period of time but it’s not exactly an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Though the continued elevation in performance we have seen from Connor McDavid has been the driving force behind the Oilers turn around, it has not been the sole reason for their reversal of fortune. The combination of Mike Smith finding his game and Woodcroft deciding to use his best nine players inside the top nine, has changed everything.
The gap between these two teams has only widened over the last five periods of hockey and it is now up to Darryl Sutter to find a response. Whereas nearly every button his counterpart behind the Edmonton bench has pushed is working to perfection of late, the opposite holds true for Calgary’s bench boss.
Be it the decision to play his fourth line in weird spots during games or his inability to find a match-up that could at least slowdown the Oilers top line at even strength, Sutter has yet to make an in-series adjustment that has worked in his favour. Yes, the Flames first line has been awful over the last two games and the continued absence of Chris Tanev is a hole they simply cannot fill along their backend.
The latter is out of their control but just as the Oilers best players did during the late stages of their first round series win against the Los Angeles Kings and have carried through to this one, Calgary’s go-to-guys have to figure it out. Part of that is on the coach but at some point, your best players have to elevate and while no one is expecting them to reach the level McDavid is at, the status quo isn’t good enough.
The other area of concern for the Flames, where Edmonton’s goaltending was downright dreadful to start the series, Jakob Markstrom has played well over these last two games, After being equally as bad as Smith and Mikko Koskinen in the opener, his play has actually made the Oilers 9-4 advantage on the scoreboard over the last two games is a flattering one for Calgary.
That’s not easy to say about a guy who has allowed nine goals against over four periods but the quality and quantity of opportunities he’s faced has to have Flames fans everywhere worried. To a man, the players and head coach keep saying how they can’t be dragged into playing the Oilers game and yet the argument could be made, it’s happened for seven of the past eight periods.
Yes, the trio of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane has been outstanding but the play of the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Zach Hyman - Jesse Puljujarvi line and the threesome of Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto and Warren Foegle has tilted the scales. While much of the Oilers offence has come from four guys in this series, the quality of shifts they’re getting from all three lines has been imperative.
To this point, Calgary has been unable to find a response and it’s killing them. However, as poorly as the last two games have gone, all they need to do is find something that will work come Tuesday night. If they can manage to do that for sixty minutes, they’ll have a chance at getting this series back on even terms and as we’ve already seen, things can swing in a hurry.
The advantage Edmonton has, as a collective, they’re clicking on all cylinders and if they can avoid becoming complacent in Game Four, the Flames are going to have their hands full. Trying to contain this Oilers lineup will not be easy and with the aforementioned elevation in play we have seen from the best player in the world, it may be something Calgary is simply unable to accomplish.