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Oilers rally to make Game 1 close, but Avalanche win

Oilers rally to make Game 1 close, but Avalanche win

DENVER, COLORADO - MAY 31: Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates with teammates Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Valeri Nichushkin #13 after scoring a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena on May 31, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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If fans found themselves catching their breath after Game 1 of Avalanche - Oilers, it would be understandable. Just think about how both teams felt following such elevated play at high elevation?

In a game that sometimes teetered toward a blowout, the Avalanche instead got a scare against the Oilers, but lead the series 1-0 after winning 6-8.

Connor McDavid and Cale Makar both generated one-goal, two-assists games. Nathan MacKinnon scored a highlight-reel beauty. Just about every top player got involved.

Yet, the biggest stories revolve around the comeback, how Edmonton struggled with Colorado’s incredible transition skills, and the state of goaltending for both teams.

Oilers stung after controversial offside goal review goes Avalanche’s way in Game 1

In a thrilling start to Game 1, the Oilers often looked overwhelmed against the Avalanche. While the high-danger chances were close through the first period, the Avs hogged the puck, and shot volume.

Even so, the Oilers received a burst when Zach Hyman scored a 2-2 goal with just 23 seconds remaining in the first period.

Remarkably, Cale Makar answered back just nine seconds later ... or did he? Understandably, the Oilers challenged the Makar call, wondering if Makar entered the offensive zone before Valeri Nichushkin got back.

Should the goal have stood, or did the league make the wrong call with that offside review video review? Tough call.

Either way, it was close.

Screen Shot 2022-05-31 at 10.08.08 PM

Ultimately, the goal stood, and the Avalanche also received a power-play opportunity because of an Oilers’ failed review. (Aside: I’ll probably call for this rule to change at least once per playoff series, as it’s too harsh of a penalty for close calls.)

Instead of the Oilers being lucky to be tied 2-2 against the Avalanche entering the second period, they were down 3-2, and Colorado began with that power play. Nazem Kadri scored on a rebound to make it 4-2 early in the second.

Another tough start to series for Oilers, Mike Smith; Kuemper injury

How many Avalanche goals would you put on Oilers goalie Mike Smith?

Honestly, it’s tough to say. So often in Game 1, the Avalanche absolutely shredded the Oilers in transition. This Nathan MacKinnon goal was probably the most glaring example, and a case where you could really pick and choose which Oiler(s) to blame.

This breakdown captures some of the issues. Maybe it’s at least one type of transition error Edmonton can work on?

Either way, Mike Smith lasted 26:20 in Game 1, as the Oilers pulled him after allowing six goals on 25 shots.

MacKinnon scored that highlight-reel tally, and Cale Makar burned Smith twice. During certain stretches, plenty of Avs were getting in on the action.

We actually saw both pairs of goalies in this one. It’s unclear why Darcy Kuemper left midway through the second period, but Pavel Francouz saw time. At the moment, the Avalanche label Kuemper’s issue an upper-body injury. It’s unclear if this has anything to do with the eye swelling issues he dealt with during the Predators series.

Mikko Koskinen relieved Mike Smith, and ended up giving the Oilers a chance during an impressive third-period rally.

Oilers find a way to make Game 1 interesting, but Avalanche win

Ultimately, the parallels between the Oilers’ Game 1 against the Flames and Tuesday’s versus the Avalanche didn’t stop with goalie changes. The Oilers also made a real push to come back against the Avalanche, much like they did against the Flames.

To simplify things:

  • During that frantic second period, the Avalanche really turned up the heat after a 4-3 goal by young Oilers forward Ryan McLeod. After that goal, the Avalanche rattled off three straight goals to make it 7-3, with Mike Smith leaving the net after the sixth tally.
  • Did Connor McDavid give the Oilers some life by scoring a goal to make it 7-4 to close the second? Perhaps.
  • Chalk it up to adjustments, score effects, Mikko Koskinen making key saves to inspire Edmonton, or other factors. But the Oilers remarkably got back into this one.
  • Early in the third, Andre Burakovsky was shaken up after blocking a shot. Edmonton hopped on that opportunity, with Derek Ryan finishing the play. Now Colorado’s lead was cut to 7-5.
  • After Gabriel Landeskog took a foolish penalty on Connor McDavid, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl assisted on a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins PPG. Suddenly, the Avs’ lead was just 7-6 with almost seven-and-a-half minutes left.

In the end, the Oilers couldn’t score that seventh goal, and Landeskog iced the game with an empty-netter.

Nonetheless, it serves as a reminder that Edmonton can score goals in a hurry.

As the 2022 Western Conference Final goes on, the question is: will we look at that rally as a hiccup for an Avalanche team that often made the Oilers look lost, or is this part of Edmonton figuring things out?

For those of us hockey fans who just want to enjoy this series, something in between would be fine. Especially if that translated to this going to Game 7 (and, ideally, rarely slowing down).

Avalanche vs. Oilers - Western Conference Final schedule (COL leads 1-0)

Game 1: Avalanche 8, Oilers 6
Game 2 – June 2: Oilers at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 3 – June 4: Avalanche at Oilers, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 4 – June 6: Avalanche at Oilers, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 5 – June 8: Oilers at Avalanche, TBD
*Game 6 – June 10: Avalanche at Oilers, TBD
*Game 7 – June 12: Oilers at Avalanche, TBD

* If necessary