ANAHEIM, CA - The Oilers have a chance to head back home with a commanding 2-0 series lead with a win tonight against the Anaheim Ducks but it certainly won't be easy to defeat the Pacific Division champs two games in a row after the Ducks had just gone 15-0-3 in their previous 18 before losing at home on Wednesday night.
"I think it's a great opportunity for our team to take another step," said Oilers forward Mark Letestu, who had two goals in Wednesday's 5-3 win. "To let them back into the series at this point - it's early - but it's a great opportunity. To go up 2-0 would be good for us. It gives us a better opportunity to win the series. I think their desperation is going to be huge. They don't want to go down 0-2 then go to Edmonton. We're going to get their best game and take it to another level from what we had in Game 1."
Letestu added that the team can't simply feel comfortable because at worst they already have a split going home.
"That's maybe a trap mindset. I would hate to give up a game just because we had one."
Oilers head coach Todd McLellan talked about his team being more prepared tonight to take a commanding lead in the series versus in Game 4 in San Jose when they were up 2-1 but lost 7-0 in Game 4.
"Our leadership group is stronger now than it's ever been. Particularly in the playoffs now, we have experience. We just played a six-game series where we were down after Game 1 and we know how we responded. So we know what Anaheim's going to come after us with," he noted. "We know what it's like to be up and you're too comfortable, it ends up being 7-0. We have experience now and can draw on it. It doesn't guarantee results one way or the other, but we can draw on it"
Historically, the Oilers have taken a 2-0 series lead on the road four other times: 1981 at Montreal, 1988 at Calgary, 1990 at Boston and 2006 at Anaheim. They went on to win three of those series in a sweep and defeated the Ducks four games to one in the Western Conference Finals.
MCDAVID BATTLES THROUGH KESLER
In the first game, the Ducks were very tight on their line matching of Connor McDavid.
"You knew it was going to be a part of their game plan," said Milan Lucic. "Every team's game plan is shutting him down and that's where the rest of us need to pick up our game and play well and contribute. Other teams are keying on him so much and sometimes a little over the top but if it's a part of their game plan it's a part of their game plan. He's the type of guy that's not going to get frustrated and he'll find a way to break through."
McLellan said that if the Ducks want to cover McDavid that closely it's fine but the rest of the team will almost assuredly pick up the slack.
"That's the way Anaheim's going to play. Right now he's two or three in scoring on our team. We're in the second round, we're ahead in the series so it can't be all that bad," McLellan said. "He's getting smarter with it. He knows where to go and how to handle it. Not always to his benefit, sometimes to others'"
Overall, Anaheim was very physical in the first game but also to the point where they took penalties. Mark Letestu scored two power play goals and said the best way to combat the Ducks' physicality is in fact to score on those power play chances.
"We see it as an opportunity. This is a team that's taken penalties," Letestu began. "Calgary was able to make them pay a few times. We view it as a form of toughness for us. If the team wants to take liberties on our skill guys, the ability to score on the power play will at least put it in the back of their mind to back off a bit. If we're going 0-for-6 or 0-for-5 night after night it gives the team a chance to take liberties without any repercussions.
"For me, it's not pressure to score, it's pressure to create momentum. We want to make them pay any chance we get."
Coach McLellan added that it goes both ways and the Oilers need to ensure they stay out of the box. They did that well in Game 1 only giving Anaheim three chances.
"We've kind of had the ups and the downs when it comes to discipline. That first round we started out on the down end. We've learned some lessons. We've talked about our play in certain situations and our emotional control. Since then it's been better and it'll need to continue to get better.
"We have some experience now. We've learned those lessons. We can apply them."
Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said he wants his team to be more disciplined as well.
"We are always going to speak to discipline," he said. "It's just part of the process that has to evolve with your group. We're just harder headed than some others I guess."
VATANEN 'REALLY CLOSE'
One of the bigger storylines has been whether Sami Vatanen will be ready to return to the lineup tonight after missing the team's last four postseason games with an undisclosed injury.
"I'm really close so I'm happy about that," he said following the morning skate, adding he doesn't want to come back unless he's 100%. "If you're not ready to play and help the team win, I don't think you should play."
When asked on whether Vatanen would play, Carlyle didn't tip his hand one way or another.
"It's always nice when your players are very very close to coming back and it gives you an option to add a player of that calibre to your lineup," he said.
The Ducks bench boss also added that Kevin Bieksa won't be available tonight and probably not until later on in the series after suffering a lower body injury in Game 1.
McLellan said whether Vatanen plays or Bieksa plays it doesn't really matter to his game plan. Anaheim is expected to have Korbinian Holzer draw in should Vatanen and Bieksa both not play.
"Nothing happens in a 24 hour period to revamp or retool your game. Holzer is an experienced defenceman and he's played against us. Their game plan will continue to be the same."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (5-2) at DUCKS (4-1)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet
Game 1 was a tough physical affair that saw a lot of nastiness behind the play but the Oilers did not shy away from it.
"I like it," said Game 1 hero Adam Larsson of the physical play. "I think we have a personnel in this locker room that likes it even more."
Larsson added that the Oilers can play any way they need to in order to win.
"We've got the speed, we've got the skills and we've got the size too with Kass (Kassian), Looch (Lucic), Patty (Maroon) and those guys, too. Whatever they bring we should have something to answer."
The first game of the series was a tough, defensive battle until four goals in just over four minutes -- two for each team -- blew everything wide open before the Oilers were able to regroup and lock things down a little more.
What could the fans expect tonight? It should be another tough, physical hockey game but beyond that we'll all wait and see.
OILERS KEYS TO SUCCESS:
BE PHYSICAL, BUT DISCIPLINED: Anaheim is going to continue to push the envelope in this series when it comes to their physicality and the Oilers need to be able to stand their ground and push back when needed but they also can't be goaded into taking dumb penalties. The Ducks are the most penalized NHL team in the playoffs and were second-highest in the regular season so if the Oilers can do this, they'll have a lot of power play chances.
CONTINUE THE LINE DANCE: Oilers head coach Todd McLellan tried a lot of different tricks in Game 1 to try and get Connor McDavid away from Ryan Kesler. It worked as it got the Ducks off their offensive rhythm only being able to score once they settled on Getzlaf vs. McDavid. If Carlyle goes back to trying to match, McLellan needs to continue his ways to keep the Ducks off balance.
GOALTENDING: One clear battle won in Game 1 was that Cam Talbot was better than his counterpart across the ice, John Gibson. If that happens again, the Oilers have a great chance to head home up 2-0.
Edmonton: The Oilers are healthy with the exception of Tyler Pitlick, who's out for the season.
Anaheim: Sami Vatanen is questionable; Kevin Bieksa is doubtful.
Adam Larsson registered two goals in a game for the first time in his NHL career; It also marked his first game-winning goal as an Oiler. Larsson registered three points in a game for the third time in his career, his second time as an Oiler - on Feb. 20, 2015 w/ NJ vs. VAN (3A); on Jan. 21, 2017 at Calgary (3A); on Apr. 26, 2017 at Anaheim (2G, 1A).
Kris Russell had two blocked shots and leads all players in the 2017 NHL playoffs with 29; Russell led all NHL players with 213 blocked shots during the regular season.
The Oilers five game-winning goals in the 2017 NHL playoffs have been scored by Zack Kassian (2), David Desharnais, Anton Slepyshev and Adam Larsson. During the regular season, they combined for 0 game-winning goals for Edmonton. Desharnais had one game-winning goal with Montreal, prior to being acquired by Edmonton on Feb. 28, 2017.
"They were down 3-1 and they had to make a push and they did and got rewarded for it. I thought we kept it pretty calm on the bench the whole way. Obviously you never want to get it to even again when you're up 3-1 but we didn't panic, just stuck with it and I thought that paid off in the end, too. When we're playing calm and relaxed, that's when we're playing our best." -- Adam Larsson on the Oilers maintaining their composure even after the Ducks tied Game 1 with two quick goals.
Oilers lead best-of-seven series 1-0
Apr 26:Edmonton 5 at Anaheim 3 Apr 28: Edmonton at Anaheim - 8:30 p.m. MDT Apr 30: Anaheim at Edmonton - 5:00 p.m. MDT May 3: Anaheim at Edmonton - 8:00 p.m. MDT May 5: Edmonton at Anaheim - TBD May 7: Anaheim at Edmonton - TBD May 10: Edmonton at Anaheim - TBD
Edmonton won the season series this year 3-2-0
Nov 15: Edmonton 1 at Anaheim 4 Dec 3: Anaheim 2 at Edmonton 3 (OT) Jan 25:Edmonton 4 at Anaheim 0 Mar 22: Edmonton 3 at Anaheim 4 Apr 1: Anaheim 2 at Edmonton 3 (OT)
In 2006, Edmonton defeated Anaheim 4 games to 1 in the only playoff match-up ever between the two teams
May 19:Edmonton 3 at Anaheim 1 May 21:Edmonton 3 at Anaheim 1 May 23: Anaheim 4 at Edmonton 5 May 25:Anaheim 6 at Edmonton 3 May 27:Edmonton 2 at Anaheim 1