ANAHEIM, CA - The Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks second-round series has gone from a best-of-seven to a best-of-three as the teams hit the ice again tonight for Game 5 at Honda Center.
There has been no home-ice advantage whatsoever so far in this Western Conference Semifinal, as the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead with back-to-back wins in Orange County, only to surrender a pair of games to the Ducks on their home ice in Edmonton. Anaheim emerged victorious 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday, paving the way for tonight's pivotal matchup.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "We knew we'd have our work cut out for us. We're deep into it now, and there's no surprises."
The Oilers were in a similar position in their first-round series against San Jose, as they also split the first four games with the Sharks before winning two in a row to advance. The circumstances to get to 2-2 were not the same - as each team won once at home - but the Oilers are focused on making sure the result is replicated.
"It's definitely been a different way to get to 2-2, but ultimately that's where it's at," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. "We were in that same position last time… It's a best-of-three now and anything can happen… Both teams are so close, it really just comes down to who battles harder, who executes better."
As for why there haven't been any home wins yet, the Oilers are unable to put their collective finger on it.
"It's tough to answer… there's a lot of pressure (at home), you want to play good hockey in front of your fans," said defenceman Oscar Klefbom. "Maybe that's been the case for both us and Anaheim… Every game is so important, so there's a lot of pressure, especially on home ice."
Coach McLellan hypothesized that home-ice advantage has become more of a myth than anything.
"In this day and age, it's not as significant as maybe it has been in the past," he said. "Both teams are comfortable playing on the road. They certainly have a little more experience with it, but we're gaining it as we go."
A huge reason for the Ducks success so far this post-season has been the play of their captain Ryan Getzlaf. The 31-year-old veteran of 112 career playoff games leads the team in post-season scoring with 13 points in eight games, including three goals and three assists in Anaheim's back-to-back wins at Rogers Place.
"You can't go out there thinking you can run him over and take the puck," Klefbom said of the 6-foot-4, 221-pound centreman. "He's very strong on the ice, and he wants you to engage him so he can create space for the other players on the ice. You've got to be very smart. He's a really good player and very tricky to play against."
Patrick Maroon played parts of five seasons and two playoff runs as Getzlaf's teammate. He said limiting the star player's time and space is the key to slowing him down.
"Don't go in there for the big hit, because he can make the play as quick as possible," Maroon said. "Don't even give him half a second, because he's a guy that has really good hands, really good skill and good vision… Just get your stick in there, be in his face. If you hit him, finish him but hold onto him a bit longer than usual… He's a heck of a player and we have to find ways to limit him."
There's a simpler school of thought for shutting down Getzlaf as well. Don't let him or the Ducks get the puck. The best defence is, after all, a good offence.
"Whenever you have the puck, obviously they don't," McDavid said. "That's a good way to defend him… He's a big boy and he's played in the League a long time. He's going to find ways to get his looks and we've got to be able to manage that."
No personnel changes are expected for the Oilers, but there was some forward line shuffling during Game 4 that could potentially carry over. Anton Slepyshev was moved to the right wing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic, while Jordan Eberle was slotted on the right side with David Desharnais and Benoit Pouliot.
The Ducks, meanwhile, do have a substitution, as Nic Kerdiles - called up from the AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls this morning - is expected slot in up front for Ondrej Kase, who was injured during Game 4 in Edmonton. Kevin Bieksa and Patrick Eaves remain sidelined with their respective injuries.
Between the pipes, it will be Cam Talbot vs. John Gibson once again. Talbot has a 2.62 GAA and .916 save percentage in post-season, while Gibson sports a 2.82 GAA and .911 save percentage.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (6-4) at DUCKS (6-2)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet
And now it's a best of three.
After winning the first two games in Anaheim, the Oilers had the worst-case scenario on home ice with two losses in a row. Now there is a maximum of three games left in this series with two in Anaheim.
The series momentum appears to be in the Ducks favour but an Oilers win tonight would completely tilt that back in the other direction, up 3-2 with a game on home ice Sunday to potentially close it off.
OILERS KEYS TO SUCCESS:
REGAIN SERIES MOMENTUM: With two straight losses on home ice, the Oilers have lost the swagger they had following two wins in Anaheim to start the series. A win tonight would turn everything around.
FULL 60: Its a cliche but the Oilers haven't put together a full game performance since Game 1 with a slow start in Game 3 and a poor middle period in Game 4.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Oilers were 1/3 with the man advantage on Wednesday with another goal just moments after the power play expired. They will need to continue to take advantage of what's been a struggling Ducks penalty kill this postseason.
Edmonton: The Oilers are healthy with the exception of Tyler Pitlick, who's out for the season.
Anaheim: Kevin Bieksa and Patrick Eaves are both questionable.
Leon Draisaitl registered two assists for the Oilers on May 3, for his second multiple point game against the Ducks this series. Draisaitl now his six points (1G, 5A) in the first four games of the series.
During the regular season, Draisaitl had eight points (6G, 2A) in five games against the Ducks, and he added four points (1G, 3A) in game # 1 of their second round match-up.
In nine games against Anaheim this year (regular season and playoff combined), Draisaitl now has 14 points (7G, 7A).
Three of his goals this season against Anaheim were game-winners, with two coming in overtime.
The Ducks would seemingly be in the driver's seat with a win tonight, however it is worth noting that the last three times they've been tied 2-2 in a series they've won Game 5 but then lost Game 6 and 7 to drop the series. And in the last two times this occurred were in 2016 and 2014. Both times the Ducks lost the first two games of the series at home only to win the next three then lose the next two.
On the flipside the Oilers have been tied 2-2 in a series 10 previous times with a 7-3 series record. In all seven of the series wins, they won Game 5 and in all three of the series losses, they lost Game 5.
"It's nice to draw back on the success we have had there. If we had two dozen games where we haven't won there, it would be more difficult but we've had success in the post-season and regular season." -- Mark Letestu on the Oilers ability to win in Anaheim.
Best-of-Seven Series Tied 2-2
Apr 26:Edmonton 5 at Anaheim 3 Apr 28:Edmonton 2 at Anaheim 1 Apr 30:Anaheim 6 at Edmonton 3 May 3:Anaheim 4 at Edmonton 3 (OT) May 5: Edmonton at Anaheim - 8:30 PM MDT May 7: Anaheim at Edmonton - 5:00 PM MDT May 10: Edmonton at Anaheim - If Necessary
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