Trailing 2-1 in a playoff series is not uncharted territory for the Calgary Flames. They were in this exact situation in their opening-round set with the Dallas Stars before winning three of four games to advance.
However, as the Flames prepare for Game 4 of their Western Conference second-round clash at the Edmonton Oilers, they are up against a team that has been dominating play for much of the past two games. On Sunday, the Oilers rode four second-period goals to a 4-1 victory.
History will show Evander Kane scored a natural hat trick and Leon Draisaitl set a league record with four assists during that period, but unquestionably the player leading the way is Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, and the onus is on the Flames to find a way to stop him.
“They’ve got one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now,” Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “We’ve got to find a way to stop that. When we get in their zone, we’ve got to hold pucks, nothing blind, and get shots to the goalie. That’s where they can have some trouble, with rebounds and loose coverage with that.”
The Flames claimed the Pacific Division crown in the regular season by being a dominant five-on-five team, using all four lines. Against the Oilers, they have been guilty of taking far too many penalties, which has helped Edmonton’s top trio gain momentum.
“They’re a tight team and they check well in the neutral zone, but we can still move (the puck) a little bit faster and we’ve got to find ways to … get in on the forecheck,” defenseman Rasmus Andersson said. “Once we get into their zone, we’re fine.”
The Oilers, who finished second in the division, are playing a strong team game, but McDavid’s exploits are filled with superlatives.
McDavid, who has amassed 23 points in 10 playoff games, is the first player in NHL history to record nine multi-point games in the first 10 games of a playoff run. Only Wayne Gretzky (29 in 1983, 25 in 1985) and Mario Lemieux (25 in 1992) ever scored more points in the first 10 games of a postseason.
“He’s been on fire in the playoffs,” Kane said. “He’s taking his game to the next level. … He’s physical. He’s involved. He’s winning puck battles along the wall, both in the defensive zone and in the offensive zone. He’s a dominant force out there.”
McDavid, Draisaitl and Kane have combined for 55 points in 10 games, numbers reminiscent of the Gretzky-led Oilers teams of the 1980s.
As quick as he is to praise McDavid and crew for their offensive abilities, though, coach Jay Woodcroft is just as fast to note their defensive play, especially in this series.
“That line, I think Connor and Leon both finished plus-4,” Woodcroft said. “When our best players are leading the way defensively and setting the tone for what’s expected for the full 200 feet of the rink, I think it makes us a better team.”
–Field Level Media