For most of Game 1 on Wednesday night at Rogers Place, the Edmonton Oilers outplayed the Winnipeg Jets. Unfortunately, on this night, that didn’t matter. Mike Smith was good in the Edmonton net, but Connor Hellebuyck was a little better in the Winnipeg goal. That, combined with two mistakes by the Oilers, led to a shorthanded Jets team taking a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
Now, the pressure is squarely on the Oilers. A loss in Game 2, and a 2-0 deficit heading on the road, and this playoff run will likely be over before the stubble even appears on your playoff beard.
“It’s the playoffs, every team takes a step and plays close to the top of their capabilities this time of year,” Darnell Nurse said after the 4-1 defeat. “That’s what we expected coming into this series. We didn’t think we were just going to show up and they’d hand us wins night after night. It was a good game, a hard game, and it’s just going to get harder and harder from here.”
The Oilers struck first on Jesse Puljujarvi’s first-career playoff goal, but failed to beat Hellebuyck after that. Tucker Poolman evened the scoring minutes later on a mistake-filled sequence, giving momentum back to the Jets.
Zack Kassian blew his assignment trying to make a big hit, while both Adam Larsson and Dmitry Kulikov failed to ride Poolman out of the play. Smith gave up a poor rebound, and the lead was gone almost as quickly as the Oilers got it.
More mistakes led to the final blow in the third period. Slater Koekkoek failed to win a puck battle, then no one marked Dominic Toninato, who deflected a Logan Stanley shot by Smith for the eventual winning goal.
It wasn’t all bad for the Oilers, however. The Oilers actually controlled possession in Game 1, finishing with a 63.92% Corsi For at five-on-five, a 62.5% Fenwick For at five-on-five, 61.54% of the actual shots on goal, and 66.53% of the expected goals for in the game.
On top of that, Edmonton held a 13-8 (61.9%) margin in high-danger chances for. If you looked at those numbers alone, you’d think it was Edmonton not just leading the series 1-0, but feeling good about it. Playoff hockey is a cruel thing sometimes.
This game came down to two things. Hellebuyck made one more save than Smith, and Winnipeg cashed on one extra chance than Edmonton. That’s all it takes some nights.
“That’s the way playoff games are, they’re going to be tight and you’ve got to capitalize on your chances,” Dave Tippett said after his fourth defeat in five playoff games as Oilers coach. “There are some things I think we can do better and some execution that we can clean up a bit, but that’s how it’s going to be. It’s going to be tight hockey.”
Tight hockey can be an issue for Edmonton’s star players. That was on full-display on Wednesday night, as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were shockingly non-factors in the loss. That trend cannot continue if the Oilers are to have any hope in this series.
“In Game 1 there’s going to be a certain feeling-out period,” McDavid admitted after the loss. The captain was held pointless and to only two shots on this night. “You’re going to see how they’re going to play us and how we’re going to play them. I’m sure both teams will go back, adjust and come back ready to go for a big Game 2.”
The Oilers better hope they are ready to go for Game 2, or what was a successful regular season could be forgotten with a second straight playoff disaster.