Oilers’ Game 2 victory over Golden Knights a continuation of a promising trend

Oilers’ Game 2 victory over Golden Knights a continuation of a promising trend

LAS VEGAS — Here’s the Vegas Golden Knights’ problem, in a series that shifts north now with the Edmonton Oilers holding a commanding 1-1 lead.

Vegas played a game they were mostly happy with in Game 1 and prevailed by a score of 6-4. It was close, with a late empty net goal. Vegas was a bit better than Edmonton, in the end, and wholly deserving of victory.

In Game 2 Edmonton responded with a game they were fairly proud of. The score was 5-1.


This game was about as close as the Cosmopolitan and the Commercial Hotel on Edmonton’s Whyte Ave. Like watching David Blaine one night, and Dale Harney the next (look him up, kids).

How much better were the Oilers than their medieval-themed opponents in a 5-1 win Saturday?

Listen to Vegas head coach Bruce Cassidy after the game:

“They had the puck the whole time,” he said. “That’s how they limited possession. They were hard on the puck … we weren’t. We didn’t have the puck enough.

“If you want to beat a high-powered team, you need the puck. It’s a tough way to play. We needed the puck more.”

To summarize:

It was Edmonton’s puck in Game 2, and as Wayne Gretzky said so many years ago, it was up to Vegas to “go find their own.”

“We played a lot faster. I thought we were more connected. We were a little bit more aggressive,” listed off Oilers captain Connor McDavid, after a two-goal, three-point night. “You know, all the things that we’ve been building towards.”

Change the momentum?

In the world’s best fight town, this was The Flip Off the Strip.

Edmonton turned this series on its ear, walking into T-Mobile Arena wearing a barrel and suspenders, and strutting out in a Dean Martin tux.

“I think a true measure of any team is how you respond, or how you react when things don’t go your way,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We had our sea legs under us right from the very first shift. There was a reason they took the penalties they did — because we were playing at a certain pace.”

Edmonton led 4-0 after 20 minutes, and chased Vegas goaler Laurent Brossoit after 40. Leon Draisaitl had two more goals for 13 in these playoffs — Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri share the NHL all-time record at 19 — while the Oilers powerplay went three-for-six, and fell back to 56 per cent in these playoffs.

Vegas went goalless on three powerplays, while McDavid’s shorty sucked the life out of the building at 11:11 of Period 1, giving the Oilers a 3-0 lead. The Oilers bludgeoned Vegas on special teams as hard as they did everywhere else — including in goal, where Stuart Skinner gave his team perhaps his best game this spring.

“Special teams can win you games, and we rely on that partly,” Draisaitl said. “But we’re also working for powerplay opportunities, right? We’re a hard team to defend, and when we do get the chance (on the powerplay), we capitalize.”

Zach Hyman took a huge cross-check from the punishing Brayden McNabb to create an early powerplay, and Draisaitl cashed at 2:21 of the opening period. Derek Ryan drew a high-sticking call on Zach Whitecloud four minutes later, and Evan Bouchard — who has a point in every playoff game this spring (3-11-14) — wired home a bomb.

“They were way better than us,” admitted Cassidy.

This was a smoke show, but more so, a continuation of a trend that could be problematic for Vegas.

The Golden Knights have allowed 27 goals to Edmonton this season in six games, with just one win to show for it. Engaging in a race to five goals against the Oilers is bad for business, and the Golden Knights can’t figure out how to flip that script.

And if the Oilers are going to defend as well as they did in Game 2, they’ll win more times than not in games that unfold the way they tend to do when Vegas plays Edmonton.

“That was definitely the mindset, making sure that we hold them to three or less goals. It was good to execute,” said Evander Kane. “We just took the game over from puck drop.”

With the score 5-0 after 40, all that was left for Vegas was the inevitable physical pushback in the third, where the teams roughly split a dozen penalties for 78 minutes. There were a few scraps, but in the end, each team gave as good as it got.

“We’re a team that can’t be punished physically — we like to do the punishing,” said Kane, who further advised the Golden Knights: “When you want to (expletive) around, sometimes you’ve got to find out.”

“We’re no shrinking violet team,” added Woodcroft. “We have some big humans out there … people that relish those opportunities. They’re not bluffers. They can take care of themselves.”

So north we go.

Draisaitl is on fire, he and McDavid have combined for 32 points in eight games thus far, and the powerplay is almost twice as potent as it was when it set a new all-time record during the regular season.

And Vegas likes to play run-and-gun hockey.

It’s hard to like those odds.

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