Saturday’s 6-4 loss in Game 1 of their Qualification Round series with the Chicago Blackhawks was shocking in so many ways. The Oilers’ penalty kill was a major issue, the effort didn’t appear there, and Chicago’s porous defense shutdown the Oilers at five-on-five, limiting them to a single goal.
All around, from top to bottom, it was not a good enough performance from the Edmonton Oilers. They looked like a team that expected an easy road to the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Consider it a wake up call for a team now two losses away from seeing their season end.
The Oilers know Saturday wasn’t good enough. On Sunday, following a hard practice inside the bubble, they admitted it. They also said the effort level is expected to be much better tonight in Game 2, a game James Neal says is a ‘must-win’.
“Obviously it wasn’t how we wanted to start the series,” Neal said on Sunday. “That being said, there are lots of ups and downs through a playoff series and as you go along here, so for us it was a little bit of a wake-up call. I think we kind of just dipped our toe in the water, no one was fully committed to how we need to play. We had a good practice today (Sunday) and we’ll put that behind us. We’ll learn from it and be a lot better tomorrow.”
In a best-of-five series, against a team determined to prove they belong, there is no room for ‘dipping your toes in the water’. Easing your way into a series could be what sends you home. If the Oilers play like they did Saturday again tonight, this thing will be over.
Consider it a positive that Sunday was a tough practice. Consider it a positive that the team both acknowledges their mistake and is committed to being better in Game 2.
Consider the urgency level ratcheted up.
“It’s definitely shorter, three-out-of-five, so I think you just go into tomorrow’s game and look at it as a must-win,” Neal continued. “We just need to play a lot better. I think, and that’s to each guy, I don’t think it was just one or two guys, I think it was a lot of guys that didn’t bring it for whatever reason. We were just a little hesitant in our game. We just need to be a lot better, and we know that.
“I thought, like I said, we started in practice and had a good practice today. After games like that, emotions run high, you think the world is coming to an end just a bit. So you sleep on it and come back and kinda put it behind you and refocus. We’ll learn from that and we’ll be a lot better tomorrow.”
For some on this Oilers teams, playoff blowouts are not a new thing. Think back to 2017, when the Oilers were destroyed 7-0 in Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks. The Oilers won Games 5 and 6 to close out the series. Leon Draisaitl believes that experience can only help them after Saturday.
“Obviously, like James said earlier, it’s a shorter series,” Draisaitl began. “We have to try to limit our mistakes. Yesterday there were just way too many. I think we know that, we know what we have to do better. Like you said, it does have that same feeling (as Game 4 against the Sharks). We came out that next game and played just really solid and I think that’s just what we’re looking for tomorrow. Nothing special, just try and bring our A game.”