After making their deepest run in the playoffs in 16 years, the Oilers stand just one loss away from elimination.
The Avalanche won 4-2 in a tightly played contest at Rogers Place on Saturday and now lead the best-of-seven series in the Western Conference Final 3-0. Colorado can clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals with another victory on Monday on Edmonton’s home ice.
“We were right in the game the whole way,” Edmonton defenceman Cody Ceci said. “It’s frustrating but we’re not quitting on each other.”
The last time the Avalanche played for the NHL championship was 2002, when it beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games. The Oilers, the last Canadian team alive this postseason, won their last Stanley Cup in 1990. No Canadian team has won one since Montreal in 1993.
If Edmonton is able to wriggle off the hook on Monday, Colorado will have an opportunity to end the series on Wednesday in Denver at Ball Arena. It is 11-2 overall in the postseason.
“It’s not a great situation to be in,” Connor McDavid, the Oilers’ star, said.
McDavid scored just 38 seconds after the opening puck drop to stake his team to a 1-0 lead. The Oilers killed off seven minutes in penalties in the first period, but an outstanding effort was ruined when Darnell Nurse accidentally scored into his own net 3:48 before the first intermission.
“It took the wind out of our sails,” McDavid said.
Valeri Nichushkin was credited with that goal and got another to put the Avalanche ahead 2-1 early in the second period. The Oilers tied it 2-2 with 12:26 left in the third and had a chance to go ahead on a hard shot on a power play by Evan Bouchard five minutes later. It rang off the post and seconds later, J.T. Compher came out of the penalty box and dribbled a puck through Mike Smith’s legs with 7:18 remaining.
Mikko Rantanen added an empty netter in the last minute.
Edmonton’s 40-year-old net minder had 39 saves in the defeat – and one of the goals that counted against him was by one of his teammates.
“He kept us a chance to win the game for sure,” Jay Woodcroft, the Oilers’ coach, said.
Smith made one stop after another on the Avalanche’s first power play – a five-minute major charged to Evander Kane for a hit that knocked Nazem Kadri out of the game.
Pavel Francouz, who shut out Edmonton in Game 2, stopped 27 of 29 shots in the victory.
After tough losses in Denver, the Oilers hoped to turn things around at their home rink.
There was not a single seat available inside Rogers Place, and fans without a seat paid $150 to simply walk around the concourses and watch on television. Thousands more jammed a 50,000-square-foot plaza across the street for a viewing party in the Moss Pit, named after the team’s late dressing room attendant Joey Moss.
Edmonton did not suffer a loss at home in regulation time in its final games of the 15 regular season, and entered the night 4-2 within friendly confines during the postseason.
As such, the Oilers expected a huge emotional boost from their faithful, the same advantage the Avalanche enjoyed in games 1 and 2.
“We are back in Wildrose country in front of the best fans in the world in a building where our players feed off their energy,” Woodcroft said following the morning skate. “We are here to win a game tonight.
“We are a confident group.”
To a man, the Oilers counted on clamour and chaos to help them.
“Everyone is excited to come home,” Zack Kassian, the right wing, said. “We know how passionate our fans are. It feels like they get louder and louder each [playoff] round. We need to feed off that energy. Our season is on the line.”
The arena was rocking when McDavid netted his ninth goal and 30th point of the playoffs but fell silent on the critical error by Nurse. The latter, who has been playing with an undisclosed injury, committed a crucial turnover that preceded a Colorado goal on Thursday.
Leon Draisaitl, who has been playing with a significant leg injury, failed to record a point for the second straight contest. He is second to McDavid in postseason scoring with 28 points.
In some ways, it was the best game the Oilers have played in this series. Here is a way to look at it: Colorado is a level above, just as Edmonton was over Calgary in the second round.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Smith said. “Every play counts. It stings being down 3-0. The desperation level has to be at an all-time high.”