Time is running out for the Oilers.
Another slow start led to another loss Tuesday and now Edmonton is must-win territory, down 3-2 to the Los Angeles Kings in their first-round playoff series.
“It’s disappointing. Obviously, you never like to lose,” captain Connor McDavid said after the Kings edged the Oilers 5-4 in overtime. “But they give you seven games for a reason and we need to go get one on the road and bring it back to Edmonton.”
Being on the brink of elimination is surprising for a team that finished the regular season on a roll, with an 11-2-1 record in April.
A habit of slow starts has plagued the Oilers through the playoffs, giving the Kings a chance to overwhelm and smother their usually potent offence. The first team on the scoreboard has won the first five games of the series.
In order to keep the season alive with a win in Game 6 on Thursday, Edmonton needs to be ready when the puck drops, said forward Leon Draisaitl.
“The answer lies in the room. We’ve got to come out a little harder,” he said. “We’ve got to come out with our skating legs underneath us. We haven’t had that the last couple of games really, not any games really in the series. So we’re looking to do that.”
The Oilers’ Game 6 task became more difficult after the NHL announced Wednesday that top defenceman Darnell Nurse will be suspended for the pivotal game for head-butting Kings centre Phillip Danault late in the second period of Game 5.
The start of Tuesday’s game simply wasn’t at the level it needed to be, said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, but there are still positives to be taken from the loss.
Down 3-1 at the start of the third, Edmonton pushed in the final frame, scoring a pair of power-play goals and a short-handed tally to force extra time.
“We’d like to bottle the energy up in the third period, the chemistry that we found in the third period, and bring that into the start of the game,” Woodcroft said.
Edmonton’s special teams have been solid early in the playoffs, with the power play going 7 for 17 across the first five games while L.A. is just 2 for 22.
Stars like Draisaitl and McDavid have been solid, each registering three-point nights on Tuesday. Draisaitl sits at seven points (five goals, two assists) through the series and McDavid has nine (two goals, seven assists).
L.A. has spread out the scoring, with Phillip Danault (three goals, two assists), Adrian Kempe (two goals, three assists) and Trevor Moore (two goals, three assists) each boasting five points.
The Kings have peppered Oilers goalie Mike Smith with a wide range of shots from all across the ice, while clogging up the neutral zone and forcing turnovers to keep Edmonton’s big shooters from troubling L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick.
Both sides have had good moments throughout the series, Woodcroft said, adding Edmonton needs to string theirs together for a “complete 60.”
“Both teams know exactly how the other team wants to play the game. It’s about who goes out and executes,” the coach said. “We know that we can do a better job. Our focus is on getting our athletes regenerated and getting their minds right, so that we can win one game in Los Angeles.”
Resetting for a crucial game after a loss isn’t always easy, Draisaitl said, but the team knows it doesn’t have any other choice.
“We got to go to L.A. and win one game and bring it back here and that’s what we’re focused on,” he said. “We know that we can be a lot better. So just move on and make sure we’re ready for the next one.”