Oilers show how far they have come with full-team effort in Game 1

Oilers show how far they have come with full-team effort in Game 1

DALLAS — Connor McDavid scored the game-winning goal in double overtime, but was certainly not the story of Game 1 of this Western Conference Final. That’s how far the Edmonton Oilers have come.

On a night where Evan Bouchard fed McDavid on the first shift of the second overtime — a perfect pass that was routinely redirected home by the Oilers captain — this 3-2 win was all about the things that kept this game alive long enough for the scorers to finally win it for Edmonton.

It was about the foot soldiers, like Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark. About defencemen like Vincent Desharnais and Cody Ceci, who helped to hold the famously deep Stars offence to two goals in 80 minutes of hockey.

It was about a perfect, five-for-five night for the penalty kill — including a double minor on a McDavid high stick just 17 seconds into the first OT — and a near perfect defensive game, surrendering just 33 shots in four-plus periods, with all those Dallas Stars power plays.

“It feels good to field those questions,” began Derek Ryan, who was up on a post-game podium usually inhabited by a teammate making five or 10 times his wage. “For the first three years of being here, I fielded a lot of questions on, ‘We need to score more.’ ‘We need more guys scoring.’ And that’s just not how you win at this time of year.

“We win with things that you just detailed, and yeah, it makes me happy to be in this position. We’re winning games the way we are because that’s the only way you can win this time of year.”

This series is going to be soooo not like Round 1 versus the Vancouver Canucks, starting with a building here that is one of the most cavernous in the NHL, and as such will never even approach the decibel levels we endured at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

It wasn’t nearly as physical, either, with the Stars just not a team that bangs the way the punishing Canucks did. They are, of course, a better all-around club, but the Stars are different, and for one game at least the matchup was just fine for an Oilers team that built a 2-0 lead and a wall around Skinner in the Oilers net.

“They’re obviously a quality opponent, but so are we. I thought we matched up good,” said big Mattias Ekholm. “We had our looks… I mean, three minutes to go, we’re up (2-1). I enjoyed the way we played Game 1.”

You don’t get to win in double overtime very often, and the team that loses this game will try to bury this memory as fast as possible. But the team that wins, they get the experience to hang their hat on. To get the notch in their belt for the next time one of these games rolls around, the next time there’s a penalty to be killed at a crucial playoff moment.

“They’re just so connected right now. So in sync in skating, and skating well,” McDavid marvelled of the penalty killers. “You know, they have the extra guy but sometimes you can’t even tell. They’re skating so well and they’re so well connected. So it’s fun to watch.”

“You’ve got to score on a double minor. That was probably the game right there,” lamented Dallas coach Pete DeBoer. “They were better — and you have to give them credit for this — than we probably expected, coming off of a Game 7 and travelling.”

Edmonton killed every penalty against the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1, and every Canucks PP opportunity in the last four games of Round 2. That’s 11 of 13 games this spring without a power-play goal surrendered, and a team that leads the NHL’s remaining playoff teams in both power-play percentage (36.6 per cent) and penalty killing (92.5 per cent).

McDavid had an excellent opportunity to view his mates’ work, a full four minutes while serving his penalty.

What was that like?

“Long. Really long. Really, really long,” he said. “Miserable. I hated every second of it.”

He came out of the box to somehow be denied by the sticks of Jake Oettinger and Chris Tanev on the best chance of overtime for either team, then finished the job just 32 seconds into the second OT.

“In my experience of being here,” said Ekholm, “he doesn’t get the denied twice.”

Skinner opened the evening by stopping Evgeni Dadonov on a series-opening breakaway, and then got a shoulder on Jamie Benn’s follow-up. He was beaten only after an egregious Brett Kulak giveaway, and on a lucky carom off a skate that found Tyler Seguin alone at net side.

In a goaltending matchup where every pundit league-wide gave the edge to Oettinger and the Stars, Skinner was better in Game 1, plain and simple.

“They work hard,” allowed Benn. “They have some great killers, and their goalie made some great saves. We’re just going to have to be better.”

Leon Draisaitl scored to run his post-season scoring streak to 13 games (9-16-25). He has a point in every playoff game this spring, something accomplished by only four other players: Bryan Trottier, Bobby Orr, Mark Messier and Nathan MacKinnon.

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