Is the Oilers terrible performance in Game 1 a wakeup call or a sign of things to come?
The Edmonton Oilers got embarrassed by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of their qualifying round series, losing 6-4 in a game that was much more lopsided than the score suggests. Just how worried should the Oilers be about such an embarrassing result, and can they turn it around in Game 2?
Connor McDavid opened the scoring with a powerplay goal, but that was where the good news ended for the Oilers. Mike Smith gave up a soft goal to tie the game, and the wheels fell off from there. The Blackhawks would torch the Oilers with three more goals in five minutes, while the Oilers crumbled under the Blackhawks forecheck and left Smith out to dry.
Tippett left Smith in net for the second period, and was beat with one more goal before he was mercifully pulled. The Blackhawks pilled it on with another goal, and took a 6-2 lead to the third period. The Oilers scored two goals towards the end to make it mildly interesting, but it was far too late. Chicago outshot Edmonton 43-29 in the game, and dominated them in every other category.
Credit to the Blackhawks, they were phenomenal in their first “playoff” game since 2017. Calder finalist Dominik Kubalik became the first rookie in NHL history to score five points in his playoff debut, and Jonathan Toews scored two goals in his return to the post-season. Unlike the Oilers, Chicago was un-phased by the pressure of a playoff series.
If there was one positive about the Oilers in Game 1, it’s that their league best powerplay is still lethal, as they went 3 for 4 on the man advantage and scored another one with the goalie pulled. But even still, the fact they got goals from McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins and still lost is terrible.
No matter how you slice it, this game was an unmitigated disaster for the Oilers. Should they be worried? Absolutely. Not only did they show how unprepared they were for playoff hockey, but the Blackhawks absolutely took them to school in every conceivable way and showed they are not here for a participation trophy. They’ve got a lot of work to do before Game 2.
First and foremost, Mikko Koskinen needs to start in goal for Game 2 on Monday. Starting Smith was a questionable choice by head coach Dave Tippett in the moment, and it turned out to be a disaster. While the majority of goals were not his fault, at some point you need a save.
However it will not matter who’s in the net for Edmonton in Game 2 if they play like that again in front of them. Ever since McDavid’s opening goal, the Oilers looked like they weren’t ready for a preseason game, let alone a playoff game. The first goal was a complete lack of communication between goalie and skater, leading to the turnover that led to the goal. Both goals for Toews could not have been any easier for him to score, as there was nobody near him either time. The penalty kill was especially terrible, letting in three goals on six chances. All of these are self inflicted wounds, and need to be patched if the Oilers are going to get back in this series.
Should the Oilers be worried? Yes. Should they panic? Absolutely not. The last thing they need in Game 2 is to be chasing the game before it even begins. What they need is to put that game entirely in the past, and play their game. Understand that this series isn’t going to be a cakewalk just because Chicago is the lowest ranked in the West, and find their legs so they can play their game.
”It wasn’t good from the start” McDavid said postgame. “I thought we did a better job as the game went on of keeping it simple. That’s what our team needs to do ultimately is be simpler.”
Game 2 of the best of five between the Oilers and Blackhawks will take place on Monday, Aug 3, at 10:30 PM EST. Can the Oilers bounce back and even the series, or will the Blackhawks move within a win of moving on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs?