The old adage that you have to lose before you learn how to win in the playoffs just smacked the Edmonton Oilers in the face. The team with the best power play in the regular season and two of the best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is finished, dispatched in four games by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Yes, the Blackhawks – you remember them, right? Three-time Stanley Cup winners not so long ago. They briefly fell on hard times, but still retain most of the crucial core that won those titles. And perhaps it’s no surprise that said veterans played such key roles in killing the Oilers in Game 4.
Edmonton walked into the third period with a slight advantage, after all. The game was tied 2-2, but the Oilers were on the power play. Unfortunately for Edmonton, its big guns could not beat Chicago netminder Corey Crawford and as it turns out, they wouldn’t beat him at all in that final 20 minutes as the wily veteran turned aside 43 shots overall, including many great chances in the third period.
Helping Crawford out back there was Duncan Keith, he of three Cup rings and a Hall of Fame career already in the books. Keith’s coolness on defense helped relieve the pressure when it was at its hottest in the Chicago zone and you can’t help but look at him play at the age of 37 with such poise and see a guy who has been there before. Keith ended up playing 28 minutes on the night.
And to finish the trifecta, we have captain Jonathan Toews, who set up Dominik Kubalik’s game-winning goal in the third period when Toews outmuscled Oilers rookie defenseman Ethan Bear behind the Edmonton net in order to get the puck to his young linemate.
These are the types of players the Oilers don’t have – yet, anyways. Edmonton still hasn’t learned how to win during the McDavid era, which now spans five seasons and one playoff round victory. Heck, it’s only been one year in the playoffs if you don’t count this qualifying round loss. So what’s it going to take to get this crew on the right track? Details are one aspect of the game that must be nailed down.
“Tonight, you can’t tell me that they outbattled us,” said coach Dave Tippett. “We had way more opportunities than them, but we made some critical mistakes at the wrong time and it went in the back of our net. It’s frustrating because we expected better.”
Otherwise, a lot of the growth will be organic. Defensemen such as Bear and Philip Broberg will get better with time, while the team as a whole will continue to learn under coach Dave Tippett, who already made strides on getting the Oilers more structure.
And as scary as it seems, McDavid and Draisaitl will be even better next season as they seek to round out their games past the blistering offense each provides.
From their post-game press conferences, it was apparent how dazed the Oilers were from this loss. But keep in mind, Chicago was once in their shoes, too. The Blackhawks had to take their lumps in the playoffs before they went all the way. It just so happens that this year, some of those old Hawks remembered those lessons and put a hurting on the Oilers in the process.