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Drake Caggiula learning quickly for Oilers vs. Ducks

Rookie forward playing bigger role entering Game 5

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula said one of many lessons he's learned in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs is that momentum doesn't carry over from game to game. 

The rookie found out in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday that it doesn't carry over from one period to the next, either. With the Oilers desperate for a goal, Caggiula scored the first playoff goal of his NHL career with 1:42 left in the third period to tie the game 3-3 and send it to overtime. But Anaheim scored 45 seconds into overtime to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2. 

"Every game is a different challenge," said Caggiula, who signed with the Oilers as a free agent May 7, 2016, after four seasons at University of North Dakota. "Each game has its own momentum train and it kind of flows in different directions."

 

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Like many of his teammates, Caggiula is learning on the fly. 

Caggiula is one of nine Oilers who have played their first postseason game this season; forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Anton Slepyshev, and defensemen Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Matt Benning are the others. Goaltender Cam Talbot made his first playoff start.

Though relatively inexperienced, the Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in the first round in six games. In that series, they were tied 2-2 and won Games 5 and 6, something they would like to repeat against the Ducks, starting with Game 5 at Honda Center on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports). 

In Game 5 against the Sharks, Oilers coach Todd McLellan had enough faith in Caggiula to move him to the top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

It was a signal that Caggiula has adapted to the increasing pace and intensity of play in the postseason.

"It's a lot higher (now), obviously," Caggiula said. "The speed of the game mentally is a lot quicker but physically, it's a lot more demanding as well. It's the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You know what's at stake and everyone's willing to do whatever it takes to win that Stanley Cup.

"We're still a long ways away but you're taking baby steps toward it every day and it's a grinding time, but you have to make sure you find your rest."

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm4: Caggiula buries late equalizer

For a rookie, an extra degree of difficulty in the playoffs is common. The regular season also had its challenges for the 22-year-old left wing from Pickering, Ontario.

After helping North Dakota to the NCAA Division I championship in 2016, Caggiula had his NHL debut delayed until Nov. 19 because of a hip injury he sustained in the preseason. He missed the first 18 games of the season and finished with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 60 games.

He was a healthy scratch for three games March 10-14, then settled into a steady role on the third line with center Mark Letestu and right wing Zack Kassian. Caggiula had seven points (three goals, four assists) in the final 13 games of the regular season.

In Game 4 against the Ducks, Caggiula was among McLellan's "good hands" group when the Oilers pulled Talbot for an extra skater in the final two minutes of the third period. When the rebound of a Nugent-Hopkins shot landed on his stick near the Anaheim net, Caggiula was in the right place at the right time and had the right reaction: a soft, quick lift of the puck past Ducks goalie John Gibson.

"At that point in time, pucks are going to be funneled to the net," Caggiula said. "You just have to find a quiet area in behind the D, a soft area not necessarily right in the blue paint but in a softer, quiet area and fortunately the puck bounced right to me. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. But you have to find that soft area and make sure you don't get tied up."

Caggiula, who played 12:08 and had three shots and four hits Wednesday, said he was mindful of the bigger picture, including how quickly the Oilers are learning how to deal with the extremes of emotions in the playoffs.

"It's still a 2-2 series," Caggiula said. "It's not like we're trailing or anything like that. We were successful in their barn last time and hopefully we can keep it going. We're in the same situation last series, tied 2-2 with San Jose. We've got some guys who've been through this before and this group has been through it last series and we know how to handle it as well."

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