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Oilers hoping for another Game 2 response against Avs: 'We know we can be better'

DENVER — Jay Woodcroft stood at the microphone after a Game 1 setback against the Los Angeles Kings and vowed his team would respond.
Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrates a goal against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith, rear, during the first period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jack Dempsey

DENVER — Jay Woodcroft stood at the microphone after a Game 1 setback against the Los Angeles Kings and vowed his team would respond. 

The Edmonton Oilers interim head coach did the same following a chaotic defeat at the hands of the Calgary Flames to open the second round. 

He was at it again Wednesday in the wake of yet another disappointing start to a playoff series — this time against the Colorado Avalanche in the curtain-raiser of what's already a wild Western Conference final.

Unlike the Kings and Flames, however, the NHL's second-best team in the regular season can match or exceed Edmonton's star power, speed and skill.

That was on full display Tuesday as the Avalanche sliced and diced the Oilers' defensive structure on the way building a 7-3 lead in the second period. The visitors desperately fought back to get within a goal only to have a late empty-netter seal an 8-6 result.

"This team has lost three (Game 1s)," Woodcroft said during a morning media availability at the team's hotel. "I can't tell you that we haven't done that — that's a fact. 

"We know we can be better, just like we could be better after Game 1 versus L.A., just like we could be better after Game 1 versus Calgary."

The problem for the Oilers is this: the Avalanche are not their last two opponents.

Edmonton had to unlock the Kings' strong commitment to clogging the neutral zone in order to win that series in seven games. 

Against their provincial rivals — the first post-season Battle of Alberta in 31 years — the Oilers' superior skating, quickness and elite-level talent meant the Flames could never establish their grinding style.

Connor McDavid, first in the playoff scoring race with 29 points in 13 games, and Leon Draisaitl, one back of his linemate with 28, took over against Calgary following a 9-6 loss in Game 1 to propel Edmonton to four straight wins.

The Avalanche possess similar firepower up front with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nazem Kadri, but also have a defence corps unlike any other in the league led by Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar, who had three points Tuesday.

"It's a different opponent, different strengths," Woodcroft said when asked if the message will be the same as it was following Game 1 against Calgary. "It's not just rinse and repeat ... but what I liked was our stick-to-itiveness on a tough night. 

"There's a lot of things that we can do better to ensure that we don't dig ourselves the hole we dug ourselves." 

The Oilers responded in Game 2 against both the Kings and Flames with solid, convincing performances.

They'll need that — and likely more — Thursday when the teams reconvene at Ball Arena.

"Game 1s haven't been our thing," Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "In that Calgary series we started to see our starts become better.

"It pushes teams back and we start rolling from there."

Edmonton defenceman Cody Ceci said his club will need urgency mixed with a confidence knowing that they can hang alongside Colorado following the highest-scoring conference final game in 37 years.

"Our group has done a great job to get this far," he said. "It'd be too bad if we let it slip away."

"You can't let it get away from you," added Nugent-Hopkins, whose team has scored 31 goals and allowed 28 over its last six games. "At the same time, there's no panic."

Woodcroft said he would be concerned if Edmonton had played to its standard Tuesday and came away with the same result.

"We don't feel that we executed at the level that we know we can execute at, specifically on the defensive side of things," he said. "On the positive side of things, we found a way to fight ... but we got way behind early. 

"That doesn't set us up for success."


Woodcroft wouldn't commit to his starting goalie for Game 2.

Mike Smith was pulled for a second straight series opener after giving up six goals on 25 shots, although the veteran netminder couldn't really be faulted on any of pucks that got by him with the Oilers on their heels much of the first two periods.

Mikko Koskinen did a good job in relief, making 20 saves the rest of the way.

"I didn't think we did much as a team to help (Smith) out in certain situations," Woodcroft said. "We'll determine Mike's status and Mikko's status (Thursday)."

It's also unclear which goaltender will get the call for the Avalanche.

Darcy Kuemper allowed three goals before leaving in the second period with an upper-body injury. Pavel Francouz was decent off the bench, but the Oilers beat him a trio of times on 21 shots.

"We'll see," Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said when asked if Kuemper will be available Thursday. 

"I don't know yet."


McDavid surpassed 50 career playoff points in his 34th game with a goal and two assists Thursday, becoming the sixth player in NHL history to reach the benchmark that quickly. 

Draisaitl, meanwhile, hit the same target in his 33rd post-season outing last week. 

Wayne Gretzky accomplished the feat in just 23 games, followed by Barry Pederson (28 games), Mario Lemieux (29 games) and Jari Kurri (34 games). 

Draisaitl's stretch of five straight three-point performances ended Tuesday, but he registered a sixth consecutive multi-point game by setting up two goals, stretching his assist streak to nine contests and tying Glenn Anderson's franchise mark set in 1985.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2022.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press