Playoff Game 6: Kings @ Oilers - Do or Die
I'm posting this blog a little early because I will be flying on important business tomorrow. My other job is high profile and puts me in touch with extremely important people; it's not as if I'm flying to Cancun to spend a week drinking on a beach...... (that is exactly what I'm doing)
The Edmonton Oilers needed to come out strong against the LA Kings and needed their best players to be exactly that. From his first shift, Connor McDavid led the charge and played arguably his best game as an Edmonton Oiler. From his first goal, to the five shots he had on net in the first period alone, Connor was on a singular mission; to get his team a win and a chance to close out the series at home in Game 7.
While the Oilers were able to score on their first shot of the game, the Kings still managed to pepper Smith with shots early on, though almost all of them were of the low quality variety. Finally, for the first time this series the Oilers were able to change their fortunes in the first and start to take the game over in that period as opposed to waiting for the second period to settle in. While no other goals were scored in the first the Oilers were playing their style of game and weren't back on their heels.
Right away in the second period, Edmonton was able to keep up momentum as Evander Kane scored his 6th goal of the playoffs, shortly after that Kane scored again but the play was immediately called down on goaltender interference and Woodcroft decided not to challenge. The score remained 2-0.
Then things started getting dicey...
Somehow, despite the Oilers dominating the Kings in shots and zone time, the always displaced LA squad managed to not take any penalties during that time. The Kings however did get a few chances on the man advantage to try and tie things up. I'm not going to put on my tinfoil hat and start screaming about conspiracies against Edmonton but it was obvious that game management was in effect and that the refs weren't going to give the team that was up 2-0 any more chances to extend their lead. Not that there weren't some good cases against the Kings. Kaliyev's hit on McDavid away from the puck was blatant interference and the penalty that RNH took against Durzi was far more of an embellishment than an actual penalty.
All of this led to a PPG that put the LA Kings within one and another early goal in the third period to tie the game. Game management won the day.
However Edmonton did not slink away or accept that it just wasn't going to be their night. Every player on that roster battled and fought and prevented LA from gaining an inch in their zone. The Oilers are a high octane offensive team but how they played in the third period in Game 6 is the key to closing the Kings out in Game 7. Finally all of the pressure paid off and Tyson Barrie of all people became the hero who made the game 3-2. Add in another Evander Kane empty net goal and we will now get to watch a Game 7 elimination game. One of these teams will move on to the Second Round.
Now it's do or die in Game 7. Leave nothing on the table.
Here are a few more specific player thoughts.
Leon Draisaitl is an absolute warrior and elite player and is clearly playing hurt right now and that was before the tackle by Mikey Anderson that I am still mad wasn't at the very least a penalty if not a finable offense. Watch the play in slow motion and you'll see it's clearly a slew-foot. I fully expect Draisaitl to be in the lineup for Game 7 and will tough it out to give his all. I do think the right move is to keep him on McDavid's wing as the trio of he McDavid and Yamamoto not only are a deadly combination, but it also takes away some of the defensive responsibilities that might over burden the German forwawrd.
When are we allowed to start saying that RNH just isn't a great playoff performer. At times I have seen every player in this lineup commit a big hit or make some strong play and while Nuge has quietly done his usual thing, that cannot be acceptable in these types of games. Somehow he needs to find a way to be the best player on the ice for at least one shift.
I still have big doubts about Archibald as a regular roster player in the playoffs but the little ball of chaos certainly came in handy in Game 6, causing a few good turnovers and also simply hitting everything that moves. As long as his hits don't completely take him out of the play I am comfortable giving him minutes.
Hopefully Darnell Nurse used the extra time off to heal a bit, get some rest and be ready to jump right back into things. Nurse served his one game suspension in Game 6 and having him back in the lineup is a huge boost for this Oilers team. They will need him logging big minutes and skating strong.
While Nurse as out, Brett Kulak did an admirable job on the top pairing with Ceci and made the simple plays that he needed to and in addition was the player who shot the puck that Kane tipped in for the second goal. I absolutely have time for Kulak as a free agent signing this summer.
Shoutout also to Kris Russell who served his purpose fine. The Kings have annoyingly been able to block a ton of shots in this series and having Mr. Shot Block himself in the lineup for small bursts does help to shutdown some of the Kings volume shooting tendencies. I do think we see the 11/7 format once more.
We thought that RNH was going to centre Hyman and Kane but instead Woodcroft leaned more on the young Ryan McLeod to take that spot and I liked what that line was able to do in small bursts. If Edmonton is going to roll out the nuclear option for another game they need players away from it who can help chip in and pressure the Kings other lines.
It's been a wild series with it's ups and downs and I hope that our time together Oilers fans isn't done yet. Tomorrow's game will be a terrifying and nervous affair and I hope it ends with an Oilers win and fans in the City of Edmonton will be able to celebrate their home team winning. Connor McDavid looks determined to push this team as far into the playoffs as possible and as long as that same energy has rubbed off on his teammates than it could be a great game for the Oilers.
Enjoy the game!