I can just imagine Bill Hader’s SNL character Stefan describing last night’s game between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. “This game had everything! Blown leads, goalie injuries, controversial goals, Mike Smith losing his mask, and the complete denial of the existence of goaltending!”
We saw both the establishment of how to effectively neutralize Connor McDavid and why the mere thought is a fool’s errand all in the same game, and the McDavid vs Nathan MacKinnon matchup has lived up to the hype thus far. Each had a goal and an assist for their respective teams, but it was a four goal second period from the Avs that was the difference here.
Neither team finished the game with the goaltender that started it. The Oilers sent Mikko Koskinen in after Mike Smith gave up the sixth Colorado goal, but it was Darcy Kuemper who would head to the dressing room a minute later, forcing Pavel Francouz to finish the game. Kuemper was listed as suffering an upper body injury, but we likely won’t know anything until game day on whether he’ll return.
The Oilers will need to decide if they’re going to try and let Mike Smith battle his way back into the series or see if Koskinen can pick up where he left off. Koskinen gave up one goal, and the final one was scored while he was on the bench for the extra attacker. I think given the way Smith has responded throughout the playoffs to losses, the Oilers go with the (old) horse that got them there, but should they go down 2-0, don’t be surprised if they hand the reins to Koskinen.
While the Avs got the win, neither team put up much of anything that could be called effective NHL defensive play, and while that’s entertaining as hell for people watching, it certainly isn’t a recipe for success, even if you’re the team who came out on top. Those bills will eventually come due, and if the Oilers get the goaltending they need, the Avs inability to shut down any of the Oilers lines for the entire game could come back to bite them on the ass. Then again, the Oilers aren’t doing their goaltenders any favours giving up the number of odd man rushes they did last night. Duncan Keith looked old and broken, and Darnell Nurse had a night to forget, so it’s not entirely fair to blame it all on Smith, as he got little help from the guys in front of him.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference Finals get underway tonight at Madison Square Gardens as the New York Rangers, fresh off a dominant Game Seven performance against the Carolina Hurricanes on the road will play host to a very well-rested Tampa Bay Lightning squad. Tampa hasn’t played since May 23rd after knocking out the Presidents’ Trophy winning Florida Panthers in four games. Will they take advantage of a tired Rangers squad or will they show signs of rust tonight?
Tampa’s won 10 straight playoff series, so can they continue this run and become the first team since the Islanders to win 3 or more Cups in a row, or will the goaltending of Igor Shesterkin be the brick wall that finally stops them in their tracks? After a rough start against Pittsburgh, Shesterkin has settled into a groove and consistently given the Rangers an opportunity to win. It’s the exact opposite of the Western Conference Finals, with Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy battling to see who blinks first.