No excuses for Oilers in 5-4 loss to Canucks in Game 1

The Edmonton Oilers are stunned, as they give up a three-goal advantage in the second period and fall to 0-5-0 on the season versus the Vancouver Canucks.
Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks - Game One
Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks - Game One / Derek Cain/GettyImages

Teams with Stanley Cup aspirations don't allow five goals on just 24 shots, and they certainly don't give up three-goal leads. However, this is exactly what happened to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night, in a 5-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

With 6:49 left in the second period, Zach Hyman scored his second goal of the game to give the Oilers a 4-1 advantage. (In the process, Hyman passed Wayne Gretzky and tied with Mark Messier for the most goals by an Oiler through the first six games of any playoffs, with nine.) They were dominating the Canucks on the road and making all the hockey analysts and oddsmakers look like experts, for picking them to advance to the Western Conference Final.

It then all went horribly wrong however, as the Canucks came storming back with four unanswered goals, including three in a span of less than five minutes during the third period. Just like that, a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead had turned into a soul-destroying 5-4 defeat.

This wasn't how it was meant to be for this particular Oilers team, which is arguably the strongest roster of the Connor McDavid era. The 2023-24 version was much improved defensively, specifically since Kris Knoblauch took over from Jay Woodcroft as head coach.

Disappointing defensively

And yet Stuart Skinner came up small when it mattered most, with the five goals allowed tying a career playoff worst. (Twice before, including a 5-4 overtime loss versus the Los Angeles Kings in the previous round.) He was at fault for at least two and probably three of the goals he let in, and overall had a poor game at a time when he didn't even need to be at his absolute best to secure a win.

In fairness to Skinner it wasn't all on him as the blue-liners let him down, particularly the pairing of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci, who had horrific games. (The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn and Sean Gentille had warned about this previously.) As if to highlight the defensive frailties, the Oilers finally allowed a goal on the penalty kill after being 100 percent versus the Kings in the round one.

Even though the Oilers scored four goals themselves on just 18 shots -- in itself concerning to have so few attempts at goal -- they weren't helped by a pretty nondescript game from their superstar centre. Similar to other teammates McDavid was poor, with just one secondary helper and zero shots in 24:03 minutes on the ice.

McDavid made no excuses when discussing what happened on the night. Speaking to the media postgame, he said: "I thought they're a good team and they were doing everything they could to come back, and we were doing everything we could to hold onto the lead. That happens in the playoffs, we don't hold onto leads and sometimes we're maybe a little too passive. I thought we were doing a good job holding a lead, (but) they find a way to get two (in the third period) and find a way to get a third there to win it."

Absence of Draisaitl was key

There will be those who argue the turning point was when Leon Draisaitl had to leave the game during the second period, with the Oilers leading 4-2. He did return in the third, but he was clearly compromised by what -- thankfully for the team -- turned out to just be cramping rather than some type of injury.

However, even allowing for Draisaitl's absence proving to be a factor, there is still no excuse to give up a three-goal lead or lose a game where you have scored four goals yourselves. Not now, not at this point of this season, when the stakes are raised.

At the end of the day, the positive for the Oilers is that it is just one game, with them more than capable of beating the Canucks over the course of seven games if they play to their potential (more consistently). At the same time however, game one serves as a painful reality check that this series will be anything but a cakewalk, versus a team which has been underestimated and proved the sceptics wrong all season.

Next. Why Connor McDavid is the undisputed choice for Hart Trophy. Why Connor McDavid is the undisputed choice for Hart Trophy. dark

It's now game on for the Edmonton Oilers. They have been warned...

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