Having already been part of the highest-scoring playoff series in NHL history as a player, Darryl Sutter is not about to repeat the experience as a head coach.
The Calgary Flames bench boss was captain of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1985, when his team met the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers in the Campbell Conference final. The two teams then proceeded to share 69 goals through the six games it took for Edmonton to punch its ticket to a third consecutive Stanley Cup final.
As in Wednesday’s opening game of the second-round series between the Flames and the Oilers, that Chicago-Edmonton series featured a 15-goal game – tied for the fifth highest-scoring playoff game in history. But in that record-setting 1980s series there was also a 14-goal game, a 13-goal game and so on.
Entering Friday’s second game of this year’s Battle of Alberta, Sutter, who moulded Calgary into a team that conceded the third-fewest goals in the NHL this year, is not expecting run-and-gun hockey to become his new M.O.
“We’ve got lots to go over today,” Sutter said on Thursday, later calling Wednesday’s offensive explosion – the highest-scoring postseason clash between the Oilers and Flames – a “classic no-hitter.”
While he expects his goaltender to be better in Game 2 – Jacob Markstrom gave up six goals on 28 shots, well off the .943 save percentage he had in the opening series – Sutter also knows his team will have to do a better job of containing the reigning MVP.
Oilers captain Connor McDavid had his first career four-point playoff game on Wednesday – his seventh multipoint outing of the postseason – and leads the NHL with 18 points in eight games.
“He’s the best player in the league. He was the best player on the ice last night, it’s not even close,” Sutter said. “At the end of the series, if Connor McDavid gets four points a game, have a good next series, Connor.”
On the day the Flames head coach was nominated as one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach, Sutter reaffirmed his commitment to a defence-first philosophy. Even with the potential to join Brian as the second Sutter brother to have his name engraved on the trophy, Darryl said he would happily swap the award for the William M. Jennings Trophy, the honour given to the goaltending group that gives up the fewest goals in the regular season.
Coming off a season in which he guided Calgary to the second-best regular-season record in franchise history, Sutter seemed fairly non-plussed about the nomination, saying he would rather see it given to a younger coach who needed the recognition, or to one who had been poorly treated by an employer.
“A guy like Gerard [Gallant],” Sutter said of the New York Rangers head coach. “He got a raw deal in Florida, he got a raw deal in Vegas. If I had a vote, I know who I’d vote for.”
A day after being pulled just 6 minutes 5 seconds into a playoff game, 40-year-old Oilers goaltender Mike Smith says he has learned to put bad losses behind him, something that didn’t always come easy to him in his younger days.
“You can’t take it back,” he told reporters Thursday. “I could sit here and ‘boo-hoo’ myself, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.
“All I can do is think about what’s going to happen next and be ready for that tomorrow.”
He certainly did that in the first round. After making an inadvertent clearance from behind the net that led to the winning goal for the Los Angeles Kings in the opener, Smith was brilliant the rest of the way, putting up a .947 save percentage and two shutouts over the remaining six games to win the series.
Edmonton’s undoing Wednesday extended far beyond the goal crease, however. Team defence struggled to smother the Flames to any degree, as Calgary got 48 shots on both Smith and Mikko Koskinen, who played in relief.
“For us, I really believe we have to get back to defending properly,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “That is something that we’ve hung our hats on for the last three months or so. I think it’s what’s led to some of our success.
“We’ve always held the belief that we feel that we’re going to score enough to win games, but for us, our work back to our own end, our detail in our own end certainly is an area of improvement we want to focus on.”
Woodcroft confirmed that Smith will be back between the pipes at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday night, a timely vote of confidence in a veteran who owns a .931 career save percentage in the playoffs, the second-highest mark in NHL history for goalies who have played at least 15 games.
“It wasn’t an ideal start for our group,” Smith said. “We all feel like we let each other down there and we’ll be better because of it.”