EDMONTON — These are the moments when everything a hockey team believes in gets laid out right there on the dressing-room table. Or the video screen, as a coaching staff drills down on how we got here, how we get out of here, and what has to happen to never be here again … in Round 1, at least.
The Edmonton Oilers lost control of their Round 1 series with the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4, taking their collective foot off the throat of the Kings after 6-0 and 8-2 wins had presented Edmonton with the golden opportunity of bringing this series back home with a 3-1 stranglehold.
The Kings stomped Edmonton, winning in every facet of the game. They wanted it more; they executed better; they battled harder; they got what they deserved: a 4-0 win.
An Oilers fan would say that their team let the Kings take this series back. The Kings would remind us that they are trying too, and they’re not at a fantasy camp here.
Either way, it’s all just semantics.
This we know for sure: The series is tied at two games apiece as we return to frigid Edmonton for Game 5. Wrestling back home-ice advantage favours the Oilers, but being even at two wins each favours the Kings, a team that wasn’t supposed to have much of a chance in this series, in the eyes of many.
So, here we are. One team with fresh, new belief, another whose belief is being tested.
Now, coach Jay Woodcroft believes, it’s up to him and his staff to dig into that Game 4 loss and unearth the elements that can be altered in Game 5. So the final score line can be altered as well.
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“You want to make sure you’re not just sweeping things under the rug. That you’re seeing things the way they occurred,” Woodcroft said. “You do your work, and you give your players something they can sink their teeth into, in order to improve.
“We weren’t anywhere near where we needed to be in some areas. We’re going to address them, we’re going to improve, and we’ll be ready for Game 5.”
So, what are the building blocks that Woodcroft already has in place? Here are a few:
• As good as Jonathan Quick was on Sunday, Mike Smith’s .942 playoff save percentage was second among all NHL goaltenders heading into play Monday night. Of the three goals he allowed in Game 4, one left him chanceless, another was tipped home by Duncan Keith and the other he stopped before Carl Grundstrom plowed the puck into the net with his body. The goaltending battle is even, or perhaps even advantage Smith — something that was in question when this series began.
• The Oilers have scored 17 goals. Connor McDavid (1) and Leon Draisaitl (3) have combined for less than a quarter of those. On nine of those 17 goals, neither McDavid nor Draisaitl were involved – so the support scoring that sewered this team a year ago is alive and well. Sure, Derek Ryan is hurt. But Drew Doughty isn’t playing for L.A., so we won’t hear of any injury woes in Edmonton.
• When the Oilers got the puck behind L.A.’s defence, then pounded them on the forecheck, that L.A. D-corps eroded. The Oilers played that game to a T in Games 2 and 3, and they won both handily. The Oilers didn’t have the puck enough in Game 4 to ply that trade, and they lost. So, win your battles, get your share of possession time in Game 5, and there is a proven formula to beating L.A.
In hindsight, the Kings looked like a desperate, last-chance team in Game 4 – and rightfully so – while Edmonton tiptoed into the game like a team hoping their opponent would give up after back to back 6-0 and 8-2 shellackings. It was a rudimentary lesson for a team that has not led a playoff series in a long, long time, that an opponent gets harder to beat the closer they are to extinction.
Is there another level for the Kings to raise their game to after that flawless Game 4 performance?
They’d tell you, “Yes,” but we would have to see that to believe it. That game was just this side of perfect, for the Kings.
Can Edmonton play better than it did on Sunday, in front of a home crowd in a massive swing game in this series?
Unquestionably, the Oilers can. Even the most objective observer would agree with that.
“You’re going to see an Edmonton Oilers team that is going to come out prepared, come hard, and play like a team that realizes there are no shortcuts to playoff success,” promised Woodcroft. “There have been moments in this series for both teams.
“In the end, the team that continues to evolve and improve is going to move on.”
Undaunted by history, Flames and Oilers will craft their own Battle of Alberta legacy – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — A throng of media-types three times the size as normal welcomed Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of the players to the podium yesterday with questions about a rivalry they know very little about.
What they do know is they’re in the middle of something special, which Tkachuk got a hint of his very first NHL game.
“My first memory was the first game in the new rink in Edmonton,” he said. “Everybody was in their seats for warmups. I thought that was pretty crazy. As I was skating out on the ice, I don’t remember perfectly, but Gretzky and Messier were out there doing a few laps or something. I’m 18 years old, thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this.’”
A large majority of the players in this series weren’t born when the last BOA series was 31 years ago, sparking shrugs from most of them when asked about what they knew of the hockey played back then.
“Not much,” said Elias Lindholm, 28.
“It wasn’t on in Sweden, so nothing,” added Jacob Markstrom with a grin, as he was a one-year-old then.
“Just big moments in NHL history,” said Tkachuk. “I’m serious when I say I didn’t know about it until I got drafted. It’s gotten bigger the last few years with both teams playing a lot better and maybe meeting each other in playoffs, and here we are.”
Tkachuk’s brother, Brady, has been busy riling up fans in the Dome and throwing out t-shirts in support of his brother’s club. The Senators captain was also seen hoisting a child on his shoulders as part of his celebrations.
“I’m surprised his parents let him go on Brady’s shoulders,” laughed Tkachuk. “I think that was kind of a spur of the moment thing.”
Call Your Shot?
The beauty of The Battle has always been that just when you think they’re going to have a Pier 6 brawl all night long, the Flames and Oilers give us an incredible night of high-skill hockey. And just when you settle in for some buckled down, defensive hockey, you get a goalie fight or — like on a whacky Saturday night earlier this season — a 9-5 shootout.
This season, Edmonton beat Calgary 5-3 and 5-2, and the Flames won 3-1 and 9-5. Neither team won on the road.
“I think you’ve seen both sides when we played each other in the regular season,” said Connor McDavid. “You’ve seen low-scoring, tight-checking games. Obviously the last time we were in here it was a 9-5 gong show, pretty much. We want to be a checking team and that’s the brand that they want to play as well.
“I think you’ll see low-scoring nights and nights where there are a couple more goals, but I would expect it to be a pretty tight-checking series.”
Asked if he still had friends on the Oilers, Milan Lucic smiled.
“For the next however many days? No.”
Asked how he thought Edmontonians feel about Wayne Gretzky’s prediction the Flames would win, Lucic chuckled.
“I’m sure they don’t like it, but he’s just giving his expert opinion,” he said, putting an emphasis on the word expert.
Battle Goes Net Front
The Calgary Flames are the bigger team — there’s no dispute there. And if it comes down to fisticuffs, Calgary is in a better spot, with their toughness centred nearer the bottom of their lineup in Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, while two of Edmonton’s toughest guys are 25-miniute man Darnell Nurse and top six left winger Evander Kane.
As such, the Oilers want to make this series about speed.
“We want to be the first mover. We want to put an emphasis on speed,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “For us, speed trumps perfection.”
Calgary is not L.A., when it comes to size and the ability to control net fronts at either end of the ice. The Zadorov-Gudbranson pairing is vastly bigger and tougher than anything the Kings had, and up front the Flames have players like Lucic and Ritchie (if he dresses), tough players who go to the net hard.
How do the Oilers go about winning the net front battle at both ends of the ice?
“There are things that we can do defensively, and things that we can do offensively,” Woodcroft said. “Something that we talked about (Tuesday) was that the team that’s going to come out on top is the one that’s willing to pay the price. The one that’s willing to do it harder, and for longer.”
In the end, as one would expect, the challenge gets steeper as a team moves from Round 1 to 2. The Kings took Edmonton to seven games, but Calgary presents a must greater impediment.
“Yes, it’s a new challenge, a new task,” the coach said. “A complete different animal, a team that’s at the top of the Pacific Division for a reason. They do a lot of things really well. We’re gonna have our hands full.”
The phones of Flames alumni have been blowing up the last few days, sparking Joel Otto to say, “Us old guys are relevant again.”
“I think it’s important for the province. I’m a Calgarian now — lived here since the late 90’s — and understanding the passion between the two cities and how important it is to ‘one-up’ one another,” said Otto.
“They used the word hate but it’s a grudge match.”
Incidentally, the last Flames player to score an OT winner in Game 7 at home was Otto 33 years ago, which was a somewhat controversial deflection off his skate.
“I’ll tell all my grandchildren it was similar to what Johnny did,” he laughed.
“There aren’t a lot of comparisons other than it was Game 7.”
Player strike brings CFL to tipping point – CBC Sports
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For a third straight year, the CFL schedule has been interrupted. Players on seven of nine teams launched a strike on Sunday, when the collective bargaining agreement signed just ahead of the 2019 season expired. Elks and Stampeders players are set to join tomorrow when Alberta’s labour laws allow.
At this point, the 2022 interruption remains minor, with the only damage being delayed training camps. The first pre-season game will likely be cancelled if there’s no agreement today. The regular season, slated to begin June 9, remains salvageable — if also a little too close for comfort.
But the latest league tension only underlines the rough recent past of Canadian football. The 2020 season was cancelled when the CFL, under the guidance of commissioner Randy Ambrosie, failed to get its ducks in a row in the wake of COVID-19. Ultimately, players weren’t paid and the league is said to have lost between $60 and $80 million.
Even the 2021 campaign was postponed and shortened as a result of the virus, leading to a Grey Cup in December. Many said the level of play dropped off in 2021, as reflected in lacklustre offences and attendance concerns throughout the league. Meanwhile, the fate of the Atlantic Schooners, introduced as an expansion team ahead of the 2018 Grey Cup, remains unclear nearly four years later.
Contrast that to the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The fledgling organization, which began play in 2019, could likewise have crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. Instead, led by former CFL player Mike Morreale, it organized a two-week Summer Series in 2020 and returned with a full slate of games in 2021. For the upcoming 2022 season, three expansion clubs will bring the team total to 10 — one more than the CFL.
For now, the CFL’s work stoppage does not appear overly contentious. The sides broke off talks over the weekend, but there’s already a mediator in place who can facilitate negotiations as soon as they’re ready to return to the table. After Ambrosie revealed the league’s latest offer on the weekend, officials from both sides have been unavailable — though Tiger-Cats players picketed outside of Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton yesterday.
While the union has mostly kept its demands quiet, earlier league proposals that included no increases to the salary cap and the complete eradication of the Canadian ratio (which requires 21 players, including seven starters, per team to be Canadian) offer a hint at their platform issues.
The only other player strike in CFL history occurred during training camp in 1974, but was settled in time for the regular season. Maybe by the time the 2022 Grey Cup rolls around in November, the current strike will be viewed as nothing more than a speed bump in a successful return-to-normal season.
But if games are missed for the third straight year, the viability of the CFL itself could be up for debate.
Trudeau says soccer body's invitation to Iran for friendly match not 'a very good idea' – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Canada Soccer, which has been riding a wave of goodwill since John Herdman’s team qualified in style for the World Cup, now finds itself engulfed in controversy over a scheduled friendly match with Iran next month in Vancouver.
At issue is whether Canada should be hosting Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.
Hamed Esmaeilion, spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, says his group has been against the match since it was first rumoured. But the issue took centre stage Tuesday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about it by a reporter, who said families who had lost loved ones considered the game a “slap in the face.”
“This was a choice by Soccer Canada,” Trudeau said in St. John’s. “I think it wasn’t a very good idea to invite the Iranian soccer team here to Canada. But that’s something that the organizers are going to have to explain.”
In a statement, the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”
“They call that a friendly game,” Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, said in an interview. “What kind of friendship do we have with the Islamic Republic of Iran?
“We want the (Canadian) government to take them to international court. And instead of that, we get humiliated by them â€¦ I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back – (as well as) the other family members. After 28 months we don’t see any sign of seeking justice here. We don’t see sign of taking Iran to any international forum. And instead of that they invite the (Iran) soccer team here.”
Canada Soccer issued a brief statement in the wake of Trudeau’s comment.
“At Canada Soccer we believe in the power of sport and its ability to bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together for a common purpose,” it said. “Iran is one of 32 participating member associations at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and Canada Soccer continues to follow all international protocols in staging this match.
“We are focused on preparations for our men’s national team to compete on the world stage.”
Asked about the prime minister’s comment, Canadian international Lucas Cavallini said: “That’s his opinion.”
“But for us guys, for soccer players, we want soccer to grow here in Canada. And games like these are important for our nation, to bring the people closer to soccer,” added the Vancouver Whitecaps striker.
In its statement, the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims said it “recognizes the athletes’ rights to play diverse opponents and supports the sport and what the World Cup represents.
“However, it is offensive to the loved ones of Flight PS752 victims given the incredible loss they have endured at the hands of the IRGC, and their ongoing efforts to seek justice for the victims.”
“I understand that this announcement causes pain for the families and loved ones of the victims,” federal sport minister Pascale St-Onge said in an interview. “While Canada Soccer, an independent organization, is responsible for the team’s preparation for the competition, they should have considered this before moving forward. Sport Canada was not part of this decision.”
Esmaeilion, who noted the federal government is in charge of issuing visas, called it “sportswashing.”
Canada Soccer and the federal government had not responded to families who had complained about the game, he said
“This is a way to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran â€¦ And this is not the first time it has been used by dictators. Russia has used this in the past and Iran is following,” he said from Richmond Hill, Ont.
He also said the Iranian team will be accompanied abroad by intelligence and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers.
“And now we’re welcoming the IRGC officers, IRGC – the same entity that downed PS752. And we’re issuing visas for them. This is a danger for national security in this country.”
Esmaeilion also noted that Iran does not allow women to attend soccer matches. “This is against Canadian values,” he said.
The federal government has said Canada’s priority “is to seek answers and pursue justice by holding Iran accountable and pursuing reparations, while continuing to provide the families and loved ones of the victims with the support they need.”
Canada is hosting Iran on June 5 in Vancouver, part of a two-game homestand at B.C. Place Stadium. The Canadian men will open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.
Canada, ranked 38th in the world, and No. 21 Iran are both preparing for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar this November.
The Vancouver matches are the first for Canada on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field on March 27. It also marks the Canadian men’s first visit to B.C. Place since March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.
Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.
The Iran fixture is one of the few World Cup warm-ups for John Herdman’s team in advance of Qatar. Herdman has said he will look to take the team to Europe in the fall to play several more matches to prepare for Qatar.
Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.
With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver and Lori Ewing in Toronto
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.
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