If the Edmonton Oilers want any chance to win the Western Conference finals, their effort must start with Saturday’s clash at home.
Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Oilers have high hopes that playing Game 3 in their own arena will spark something against the Colorado Avalanche.
“We haven’t shown our best yet and that is encouraging, but we have to make sure it’s coming soon,” forward Leon Draisaitl said. “Obviously not the situation we wanted to be in after two games, but that’s the way it is. We can’t dwell on it, we have to be better.”
History has not been kind to clubs in Edmonton’s situation. Teams with a 2-0 lead in an NHL conference final series have posted a 91-7 record in the matchup to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
The Avalanche skated to an 8-6 win in the opener and absolutely dominated Thursday’s 4-0 victory, in which they broke open a scoreless deadlock with a trio of goals in a 2:04 span early in the second period.
Colorado goaltender Pavel Francouz took the net because No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper suffered an upper-body injury in the series opener. Francouz collected the shutout but faced only 24 shots, 13 of them in the first period.
The Oilers – who provided no update on the status of forward Kailer Yamamoto (upper body) after he was hurt in Thursday’s game – must find a way to generate offense against Colorado’s talented attack.
“We’ve got do a better job getting in on the forecheck, getting sustained pressure,” forward Zach Hyman said. “I think at times when we’re doing it you can see it works, but I just don’t think we’re doing it enough.”
As much as the Oilers relish home ice, the Avalanche don’t fear playing on the road. Colorado has posted a 5-0 record away from the Mile High City while winning 10 of 12 games during this playoff run.
Another reason the Avalanche believe they can keep rolling is Mikko Rantanen’s return to form. Rantanen managed only one goal in the first two rounds – which was into an empty net – but has netted one goal and one assist in each of the first two outings of this series on a line with Nazem Kadri and Artturi Lehkonen.
Colorado’s top trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin is tough enough to contain, but now the Avalanche have two lines the Oilers must find a way to stop.
Lehkonen also collected one goal and one assist last game, while Kadri registered three assists as the trio contributed to all three of those goals that sent Colorado off and running.
“That’s the line that got us started and kept it going in the second period, the Kadri line,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “They were making plays in the second period. They [capitalized] on a couple of chances, and they’re the ones who built this lead.”
Just as impressive was how the Avalanche kept Edmonton’s top guns in check. Connor McDavid, whose 29 points lead all players in these playoffs, Draisaitl (28 points) and Evander Kane (league-best 13 goals) were non-factors and barely generated any attack, especially after the hosts took the lead.
“We didn’t stop playing this time in the third,” Rantanen said, alluding to how the Oilers made it a one-goal game in the opener after Colorado staked a 7-3 lead. “We kept going and kept forechecking and staying on the pucks in the O-zone. That was the big difference.”