Just like in round one, a dominant game three has the Oilers in the drivers seat of the series. Unlike last time though, they need to take advantage of the momentum they have.
After a brutal start to the series in the Saddledome, Edmonton has utterly dominated the better part of the last five periods of play. Despite letting up a bit in the third period of game three, they still controlled the game for most of its 60 minutes, and have all the momentum entering a crucial game four. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this was the exact scenario the Oilers found themselves in, in round one against the Kings. Instead of capitalizing on the momentum they had there, they played arguably the worst game of the Woodcroft era in game four and followed it up by losing game five to put them on the ropes. Unlike that series though, the Oilers can not afford to give the Flames even a sliver of hope.
Down 3-2 against the Kings, McDavid was able to pretty much will the team to two straight wins, which was largely possible because the Kings weren’t really that good. The Oilers won and that’s all that matters, but LA was never a team that should’ve taken them to seven. The Flames on the other hand are very good. They may not have looked it in games two and three, but by most metrics, they along with the Presidents Trophy-winning, Florida Panthers, were the two best 5-on-5 teams in the league. Obviously, the lackluster play from Vezina nominee, Jacob Markstrom, hasn’t helped them much so far, but the reality is that the Flames are a very good hockey team. This isn’t to say that we should expect them to dominate the Oilers moving forward, but if the Oilers give them an inch in game four, unlike the Kings, they could take a mile.
In the history of the NHL only 31 teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series, most recently in the first round of these playoffs, when the Rangers rallied back to beat the Penguins, so while it’s far from a certainty, getting up 3-1 definitely helps your odds. In franchise history, the Oilers are 14-1 in series’ where they held a 3-1 lead, with their only loss coming in 1989 to Wayne Gretzky and the Kings, and 3-0 all-time when they hold said lead against the Flames. The point is, if you lead a series 3-1, it’s much easier to win that than it is if the series is tied 2-2.
I think the keys to the Oilers keeping the momentum boil down to three pretty simple things. Smith staying hot, McDavid being McDavid, and the third line being at least above average. The Flames have shown to this point that they genuinely have no idea what to do with McDavid, and even 50 percent of his current production would be enough to win some hockey games, but Smith’s play has also been integral to the team’s success thus far. The third line of Foegele-McLeod-Yamamoto played a really nice game three, and I think their ability to keep the pressure on the Flames while the top guys are off the ice will be huge, especially considering how much Darryl Sutter loves his depth forwards.
Game four is tomorrow night at Rogers Place, and despite holding all the cards right now, the Oilers need to take advantage of the situation they’ve played themselves into and put the Flames on the ropes heading back to Calgary. Every game from here on out is the most important game of these players’ lives. Let’s hope we can play La Bamba on Tuesday night.