EDMONTON, AB - With the stakes elevating and the pressure mounting, Monday's 60-minute display of pound-for-pound, heavy hockey came as no surprise.
Game 1 of a two-game series between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens was filled with checks, collisions and scrappy altercations - from shoulder-to-shoulder bumps along the boards to face-washing post-whistle scrums. The Oilers embraced the guts of the game as it simulated playoff hockey in its finest form, and the team is expecting that type of style to be the norm going forward.
"I think on paper, it may not be our style of game but going into the post-season, the majority of the games are going to turn out that way," Oilers winger Alex Chiasson, who delivered two hits and two shots on goal Monday, said.
"It's not easy to get to those areas around the net and you've got to fight for every loose puck. I thought 1-on-1 battles were key for us creating second and third opportunities. A lot of the little things that happened within the game, were key points for us."
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Bodies struck often Monday, with 67 hits being registered by the time the horn sounded to signal a 4-1 victory in Edmonton's favour. Space stayed limited on the ice and there was a high price to pay for real estate around the blue paint but the Oilers dug in physically to revoke a third-period deficit and score four unanswered, producing one of the most entertaining episodes of the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.
"It was a physical game. That's what set it apart," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "There were a lot of hits in that game and a lot of hard competing for loose pucks and hard competing to get to the net. It was one of those games where there was a lot of contact and a lot of aggressive play. When both teams are doing it, it ends up being a good game."
The grudge match caused bumps and bruises for both squads. Jujhar Khaira was caught with a crushing check from Canadiens defender Alexander Romanov in the opening stanza and needed to be assisted off the ice before being ruled out for the rest of the game.
"he's feeling fine today," Tippett said of the Oilers forward. "He says it's funny, he got hit and just was stunned a little bit but then today he feels absolutely normal. They're going to do some tests to make sure everything's alright."
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At the other end, Chiasson brushed into the head of netminder Carey Price while trying to establish a position in the crease before Connor McDavid's disallowed goal. Price finished the first period but will miss a week due to concussion protocols.
"I thought Connor was going to go around and I was trying to make my read off that," Chiasson, explaining the play, said. "I apologized to him (Price) afterwards and I think he realized that wasn't my intention. I hope he's doing alright."
The Oilers and Canadiens will face off on Wednesday to complete the brief miniseries then will meet again three more times before the regular season closes.
"We want to go into the post-season feeling good about ourselves and making sure we're ready to go," Chiasson said. "I thought last night was as close as you're going to get to a preparation game. Everyone was dialed in and we stuck with it for 60 minutes."