Return from the Dead? The magic each Edmonton Oilers player must conjure to avoid elimination

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The Edmonton Oilers have found a way to lose three games to the Vancouver Canucks. Now the Oilers have to find a way to win two games. Can they do it? Here’s what Team captain Connor McDavid said earlier this year in a dressing room speech to his team: “If there’s anything this year has taught us it’s that when we stick together like brothers we can do anything… We brought ourselves back from the dead this year it’s a credit to everybody in this room.”

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One more return from the dead is not mission impossible for these Oilers. Teams do it often. The Oilers can do it. They have done it before in franchise history.

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Indeed, in 1990, on their way to winning the Stanley Cup, the Oilers were down 3-1  to the Winnipeg Jets, then won three straight. The same happened against Colorado in 1998, the Oilers winning the three final games of the series to take it in seven.

The McDavid/Draisaitl era Oilers pulled off the stunt in 2022, winning the final two games to beat the Los Angeles Kings in seven.

As McDavid said, this current team is familiar with rising from the dead, given its horrendous start that had some folks writing off Edmonton’s playoff chances in November. But they found a way.

Now their assignment, their mission possible, is to find the unique individual secret sauce it will take for each of them to play well enough to get by a determined Vancouver Canucks team.

It’s do-able. The flow of play went Vancouver’s way in Game 5, a brilliant effort that saw them get 20 Grade A shots to just eight for Edmonton in a their 3-2 win.

But overall in the five game series, Edmonton has had 78 Grade A shots to 58 for Vancouver. The Oilers have been the more dangerous team, but Vancouver has had superior goaltending.

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That said, if Edmonton can reassert its dominance in Grade A shots, its chances of winning the next game shoot up. That might not be enough to win, as it will also take puck luck and solid goaltending. But I like Edmonton’s chances in Game 6, and Game 7 will come down to which team wants it most.

Grade A

Here’s what each and every Oiler has to do for Edmonton to take the series:

#2. Evan Bouchard. Until a few major mistakes in Game 5, Bouchard had been the Oil’s best d-man in the series. He’s got two game-winning goals, six points in five games. For him, I’ll suggest he keep doing what he’s been doing. He’s crushing it.

#5. Cody Ceci. He got off to a rough start this series, in large part due to a number of ill-advised offensive forays where he was slow getting back. He’s settled down in the last few games since getting paired with Brett Kulak. For Ceci, solid positional play is his strength. If he can always, always, always stay on the right side of his check and guard the slot, he can help Edmonton win.

#10. Derek Ryan. He’s been sensational on the kill and is driving forward a solid checking line. More of the same will work but that can be assisted by coach Kris Knoblauch. Given how well Ryan’s line played in Game 5, it was odd that Ryan only got 7:15 of even strength ice time. Two or three minutes more for his line would have done the Oilers well.

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#13. Mattias Janmark. He’s playing some of his best hockey right now. For Janmark, one key is out of his hands. I’ll suggest that when the Oilers have a lead, especially at the end of each period and the end of each game, Janmark should be Knoblauch’s first choice to have out on the ice, as opposed to an offensive player who lacks Janmark’s excellent defensive instincts.

#14. Mattias Ekholm. He’s done far, far more good than bad this series, even as he’s been playing sick. He made a mental mistake with a bad line change on the winning goal against in Game 5, but such is hockey. For him, the key is to rest up, get as healthy as he can, and keep bringing what he’s brought all year, excellent defence and puck-moving.

#18. Zach Hyman. He’s played solid two-way hockey this series, but has just two goals in five games. He’s counted on to find a way to score. Now is the time.

#19. Adam Henrique. If he’s healthy, he can bolster the top line with smart and steady play. He’d be a welcome addition to the roster. But only if he’s healthy.

#25 Darnell Nurse. He’s come on as the series has progressed. Nurse is at his best when he stays on the right side of his check, guards the slot and moves the puck. He’s now playing that straight ahead game, just needs to stick to it in Game 6.

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#27 Brett Kulak. Like Bouchard, he’s generally brought his “A” game against Vancouver. He’s another player where more of the same is what his team needs.

#28 Connor Brown. Finally, at long last, we’re seeing the real Connor Brown. He made a brilliant pass to Janmark for Edmonton’s second goal in Game 5. His defence has been solid. But, again, this is one where Knoblauch has got to find more ice-time for this line. They have earned it.

#29 Leon Draisaitl. Eleven points in five games, seven of them at even strength, the Oil’s best player in this series. Enough said. The key for Draisaitl is to keep it simple on defence, cover his position, not free-lance. On the attack, he’s a monster.

#30 Calvin Pickard. Goalies are voodoo, so whatever voodoo Pickard has been conjuring, no one should question or mess with. He singlehandedly kept the Oilers in Game 5 when the Canucks took over in the second period and gave his team a chance to win.

#37 Warren Foegele. He’s disappeared in this series and these playoffs, save for on the penalty kill where he’s been part of an outstanding effort. If he stays in the line-up, his strength has been taking the puck hard to the net and forechecking. If he focuses on taking the man each forecheck, that might well work.

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#39 Sam Carrick. He may be asked to provide some physical punch on the forecheck. The Oil greatly lacked that in Game 5.

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#51 Troy Stecher. If he gets in, keep it simple, just move the puck, which is his strength.

#55 Dylan Holloway. Suddenly he’s a Top 6 player, smart with the puck, solid on defence, fast and adept enough to even bottle up Quinn Hughes at the point. Now he’s got to find a way to get off his shot.

#71 Ryan McLeod. In some ways  he’s been good. He is sound defensively, solid moving the puck, and has been involved in some close calls around the net. But he’s got no points in five games against Vancouver. He’s had just four shots on net, missing the net on a few open looks. Like Foegele, he’s got to find a way to drive the puck on net.

#73 Vincent Desharnais. Solid on penalty kill and in his own end, if he can move the puck smartly, he helps the Oilers in their goal.

#74 Stuart Skinner. He may yet get another chance in this series. If he does, he’s got to be the Stu Skinner of December and January, not the one we saw in May. He can make big saves. He’s done it consistently in the regular season. Why not now?

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#86 Philip Broberg. I doubt he’ll get in, even as I think if he’d been handled adroitly he might now be providing the same boost to the Oilers as Holloway is. If does see the ice, he’s got to keep it simple, modelling his game on Kulak, getting it done with sound positional defence and brilliant skating.

#89 Sam Gagner. It’s time for Sam Gagner to get a game, no? If he does, he’ll score.

#90 Corey Perry. He looks banged up and a step or three behind. He’s out of sync with McLeod. Perry out, Gagner in is the right play for the team, no? If he comes back rested later in the playoffs, he might still be a factor.

#91 Evander Kane.  When Kane is hitting and shooting — and he’s been doing a good job of it this series — the Oilers roll. He’s played well, but must maintain defensive focus when covering the point, making sure to stay in front of his check.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He had a great Game 4 but disappeared again in Game 5. If Henrique is back, RNH might be on the third line with McLeod and Gagner. I’d like to see that. Such a line with three smart hockey players can have some success on the attack. For RNH, the key is to play with an edge, something he’s done in the past.

#97 Connor McDavid. Just six points and one goal this series, not up to his usual standard. He looked slow and tired in Game 5. He lost his check J.T. Miller on the winning goal. McDavid takes over a game when he’s moving his feet, beating players with his speed. He did so in Game 2 in the series. Now it’s time for him to bring the magic again.

McDavid knows it. I bet McDavid does it.

At the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: Player grades in Game 5 loss to CanucksSTAPLES: “Masterful performance”: Social media reacts as Oilers lose but find hope in Calvin Pickard

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