SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A championship season came to a crashing end for the Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2022 Memorial Cup.
Before the start of the Battle of Alberta, I had a few theories as to how the series would play out. Chief among them: Calgary is the better team, Edmonton has the best player, and, by extension, the best line.
Barring a goaltending collapse from either club, these two forces would collide and ultimately decide the series.
Game 1 checked all three of those boxes. The Flames were comfortably the better team. The Connor McDavid line was as lethal as usual. And, ironically, we saw goaltending capitulation from both sides.
Edmonton’s Mike Smith (three goals conceded on seven shots faced) was horrific and yanked from the game early. Backup Mikko Koskinen (five goals conceded on 32 shots faced) wasn’t any better. The only difference between Smith and Calgary starter Jacob Markstrom (six goals conceded on 22 shots faced) was Darryl Sutter’s reticence to pull his besieged goaltender. It was bad.
Let’s set the goaltending aside for a moment – after all, it’s exceptionally rare you see a single-game stop rate of 80 per cent. Instead, let’s focus on the first two components: Calgary’s dictation of the game, and Edmonton’s ability to keep the game close on pure star power from the McDavid line.
Starting with Calgary: this was, for all intents and purposes, a possession-game beatdown. Consider what the numbers looked like at even strength:
It doesn’t matter if you are looking at pure shot volume or adjusting those shots for their threat level, the Flames were a far superior team and dictated the flow throughout the game.
We know that Calgary’s lineup runs a little bit deeper than Edmonton’s (particularly on the blueline), so much of this is expected. Notably, all four Calgary lines were in the green on the night, and three of the four lines outscored Edmonton at even strength. This is the type of comprehensive dominance you tend to see from Stanley Cup-calibre teams:
It was a great night for virtually every Calgary Flame except Markstrom. Andrew Mangiapane, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk (hat trick) had three points apiece. Twelve skaters recorded at least one point. The only skater who didn’t record a shot on the night was fourth-line quasi-enforcer Milan Lucic.
And yet, this performance from Calgary left me wanting. Sure, Markstrom struggled. But why did it feel like the Oilers, despite being comprehensively outplayed, were on the precipice of an improbable comeback?
That brings us to the McDavid line. Calgary’s path to victory means slowing the McDavid line down, as much as practically possible. He is coming off one of the most dominant playoff performances I have ever seen against Los Angeles.
I was very curious as to how Sutter, a gifted defensive coach, would attempt to slow down McDavid from a personnel standpoint – particularly with last change.
The Flames don’t have any single unit capable of defending McDavid, but they do have a lot of skilled two-way players and can throw a lot of different bodies at the problem. And that’s primarily what they did. The Flames rolled three lines and three pairings against McDavid, only shielding the Lucic-Trevor Lewis–Brett Ritchie line in the process.
That said, Sutter did skew towards best-on-best. Tkachuk, Gaudreau, and Selke Trophy finalist Elias Lindholm – anchored by Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson – were asked to do quite a bit more:
How would we grade the Flames work against McDavid in Game 1? I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side of the ledger: as a dominant possession team, Calgary can execute the most tried-and-true defence there is against a player the calibre of McDavid, and that’s not to let him touch the puck. The Flames outshot the Oilers 29 to 19 (+10) with McDavid on the ice, taking meaningful puck-on-stick time away from Edmonton’s top line. They also outscored the Oilers 5-4 against McDavid, though there is a lot of goaltending noise in that data.
The key question for the Flames: can they continue to ramp up the offensive pressure and pin McDavid’s line (featuring Evander Kane and Leon Draisaitl, primarily) into the defensive zone like they did for stretches in Game 1?
The McDavid line was still responsible for four goals – and you can see why from the chart below – but there is no question the Oilers had a hard time sustaining offensive-zone pressure, relying heavily on the rush and counterattacking measures to threaten Calgary. Consider the shot profile with McDavid on the ice:
That is an awful lot of traffic in front of Smith and Koskinen, and it’s one of the reasons Edmonton’s goaltenders melted all night.
But Calgary wasn’t clean defensively, either. McDavid’s line was able to generate heaps of scoring chances at the net mouth and from the circles, and it didn’t seem any of the Flames’ defensive pairings were strong or agile enough to push McDavid (or Draisaitl/Kane, for that matter) into less dangerous scoring areas.
All this to say: I think Calgary’s performance was masterful last night, save for Markstrom. But the McDavid minutes were terrifying, and that’s with the Oilers’ top line playing extensively in their own zone. If that regresses even marginally, it’s going to mean more offensive-zone pressure from the McDavid line.
Calgary’s goal is simply to survive the McDavid minutes. In Game 1, they did just that. Repeat it three more times this series, and Calgary will move on. But I’m not betting against No. 97 anytime soon.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference
The Stanley Cup was in the building and just waiting to be paraded around the ice.
Pack it up. It’s heading back to Tampa Bay.
The resilient Lightning spoiled Colorado’s party to stay in the hunt for a third straight Stanley Cup title, beating the Avalanche 3-2 on Friday night in Game 5.
“That’s what good teams do — you find a way,” Lightning forward Corey Perry said. “Keep plugging along. This is fun. This is what hockey’s all about, different guys stepping up at different times.”
Game 6 is Sunday night in Tampa. The Lightning trail the best-of-seven series 3-2.
“Listen, this is a huge challenge for us,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “An exciting challenge, too. You’ve got to be excited for this challenge and embrace it.”
The Cup was all shined up and ready for the moment — almost beckoning to the Avalanche from the side. It’s back on the road for the Avalanche, where they’re 8-1 so far in their playoff run.
WATCH l Palat’s winner keeps Lightning’s Stanley Cup three-peat bid alive:
“We have belief in our room that we can win every game we go out and play,” defenceman Devon Toews said. “We feel like we had a decent game tonight, pretty good game. Obviously it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Nikita Kucherov and defenceman Jan Rutta also scored for the Lightning. Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar had goals for Colorado. Makar’s third-period tally bounced off the skate of Erik Cernak and through the pads of Vasilevskiy to tie it at 2.
That set the stage for Palat, whose shot slipped through the pads of Darcy Kuemper. It was Palat’s 16th career go-ahead playoff goal, which trails only Brayden Point (18) in franchise history.
“I thought I played it well, slid over,” Kuemper said. “It just found a little hole.”
WATCH | Should Kadri’s goal have counted?:
Tampa Bay regrouped after an emotional Game 4 loss at home on a overtime goal from Colorado forward Nazem Kadri. The Lightning felt the Avalanche might have had too many players on the ice on the winner.
A similar too-many-players-on-the-ice scenario unfolded Friday — and this time it was called. With 2:43 remaining, the Lightning went on the power play and made it so that Colorado couldn’t pull Kuemper until the final moments. They weathered the Avalanche’s late barrage.
Just the Lightning showing their championship mettle. They’ve already rallied back from a 3-2 deficit to Toronto in the first round, and climbed out of a 2-0 hole against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
This is a gritty Lightning squad that’s showing no signs of slowing down against a speedy Avalanche team and even after all the contests they’ve logged. Tampa Bay has played in 67 postseason games since the start of the first round in 2020, nearly an entire extra season.
Their resolve has impressed Lightning coach Jon Cooper. His team improved to 3-0 this season when facing potential elimination games.
“The mental fortitude you have to have to play in the environment they just played in, there’s a reason these guys have a couple rings on their fingers,” Cooper said.
“It’s not supposed to be easy and it’s not going to be easy,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We knew that coming into this. We knew that coming into tonight. … Short memory in the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Avalanche are 2 for 2 in their visits to the Stanley Cup Final. They also won in 1996, which was their inaugural season in Denver after relocating from Quebec.
Soon after Nichushkin tied it at 1-apiece in the second, Kucherov knocked in a goal off the post. The power-play goal was with Alex Killorn in the box for holding, along with J.T. Compher (holding the stick) and Makar (tripping), making for a 4-on-3 situation.
“There was no intent there. I don’t even think he was checking that guy,” Bednar said. “Look to me like he kind of tripped over a stick. It’s a tough one.”
Kuemper finished with 26 saves.
“He was OK,” Bednar said. “I’d like to see him get the first one, obviously.”
That first one would be Rutta’s score less than five minutes into the game that zapped some of the energy from the crowd. It was his first goal of the playoffs.
“We’ve been here. Have we been down 3-1? No,” Cooper said. “But we’ve been in these situations where we know the feeling of being in an elimination game.”
SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A championship season came to a crashing end for the Edmonton Oil Kings at the 2022 Memorial Cup.
The Oil Kings lost 4-2 to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the final round-robin game for each team at Harbour Station arena Friday, eliminating them from the tournament.
The Bulldogs move on to the semifinal Monday against either the host Saint John Sea Dogs or QMJHL champion Shawinigan Cataractes, who play Saturday to determine top spot.
Mason McTavish scored a pair of goals, while Avery Hayes and Ryan Winterton had the others for the Bulldogs, who had lost their first two games of the tournament, but advanced with the win. Marco Costantini made 40 saves.
“It was a gritty effort,” said Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee. “We obviously got fantastic goaltending, it was one of the best games I’ve seen Cosy play, and I’ve seen him play a lot of games. We’ve got some guys that are banged up that are playing through things, like a lot of teams here, and I was just impressed with the effort; the guys left it all out there.”
Jalen Luypen and Carter Souch scored for the Oil Kings, who only needed a tie in regulation to advance with the new points system announced by the CHL on the even of the tournament. Sebastian Cossa made 32 saves.
“I thought this was actually our best game of the tournament,” said Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer. “I thought we were a lot more engaged and had more purpose to our game. We generated a lot of opportunities and unfortunately, we didn’t finish a lot of them.”
The Bulldogs needed to win the game in regulation to earn all three points for the win and move into third spot in the standings ahead of the Oil Kings. Teams are only awarded two points for an overtime loss, while the loser gets one.
Hamilton opened the scoring on the power play nine minutes into the first period. Hayes took a pass from Logan Morrison at the side of the net and was able stuff the puck in through Cossa to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Hamilton increased their lead to 2-0 with less than four minutes in the period with another power-play goal.
Defenceman Nathan Staios was able to leap up and keep a puck in the zone. He slid it over to McTavish, who fired it across the ice to Morrison and he in turn, sent it back across the ice to Winterton for a tap in.
“Playing with those guys on the power play, it’s so easy to get points,” Winterton said. “It’s easy to produce because they find you so easily. It was a great goal and I’m thankful for Logan for finding me.”
In the second period, the Oil Kings took the play to the Bulldogs but were unable to cut into the deficit.
The Bulldogs sustained a big blow when Staios was injured after being hit into the corner from behind by Oil Kings defenceman Simon Kubicek, who had lofted the puck into the zone and then gave chase after it. Kubicek was not assessed a penalty and Staios watched then rest of the game from the stands.
“Nathan is already playing – like a number of guys – a little sore in some areas,” McKee said. “I mean if that’s not a hit from behind, I need to understand what is. Looking at the tape, it was directly from behind and he’s hurting, he sore.
“He clearly didn’t come back in the game and I certainly would have liked to have seen a different call there.”
Edmonton out-shot Hamilton 15-9 in the period and the best chance they had to score fell to Josh Williams, who fanned on a shot in front off a centring pass from Carter Souch.
“I thought it was the best game of the tournament for us,” said Neighbours. “That was the closest to I’ve seen all tournament since we’ve been here. We just couldn’t finish early, but I’m proud of the guys, they never quit.”
Luypen scored shorthanded two minutes into the third period to cut the deficit to 2-1. He took a drop pass from Jaxsen Wiebe just inside the Bulldogs zone and snapped a shot short side on Costantini.
The one-goal deficit made for a tense final 15 minutes as the Oil Kings poured on the pressure looking for the tying goal.
Costantini made an outstanding save on Brendan Kuny, who had been set up on cross-crease pass. The Bulldogs goaltender then somehow managed to stop Jake Neighbours at the side of the net on a tip-in attempt.
McTavish extended the lead to 3-1 with six and-a-half minutes remaining, one-timing a shot from the left face-off circle over the shoulder of Cossa.
“It was nice to get that one, we were kind of getting outplayed in the third,” McTavish said. “We expected them to have a big push there and it was their season on the line. We expected it, but it was nice to get that one.”
Souch cut the lead to 3-2 with 2:46 left in the game on a shot that found its way through traffic past Costantini with Cossa on the bench for the extra attacker.
It was as close as the Oil Kings would get, however. McTavish scored into an empty net as time expired in the contest.
“I think we were able to get through that with the experience we have in close games,” McTavish said. “Obviously it’s a lot different here, they’re championship teams and they have a lot of skill over there and they pushed really hard, but I think our experience helped us.”
(3A) Lightning at (1C) Avalanche
8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS
Colorado leads best-of-7 series 3-1
The Colorado Avalanche can win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 with a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena in Denver on Friday.
The Avalanche took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Colorado is 15-3 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 7-2 at Ball Arena, but know this home game will be different with the Stanley Cup in the building.
“You try to treat it like another day, but you’re going to have thoughts of different things that haven’t been there all year,” Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram said. “But you’ve just got to stick to your routine, do what you’ve done every other day you’ve come to the rink and just make sure that you’re prepared to play your best tonight.”
The Lightning will seek to become the second team in NHL history to rally from down 3-1 in a best-of-7 Cup Final. Tampa Bay came back from trailing 3-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 2-0 hole against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
Now the Lightning need three straight wins against the Avalanche to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-83.
“You just don’t know how many opportunities, how many kicks you’re going to get at it,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “I think for us it’s easier to think that you’ll be back every year just because of how things have been going. That’s just not the reality. There’s a lot of guys in the room that haven’t won Cups, guys that have been in a lot of situations like this in the past, so there’s a lot on the line and you just want to make sure you make the most of these situations.”
Here are 3 keys to Game 5:
Colorado started fast in winning each of the first two games of the series at home, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the opening 9:23 of Game 1 and a 3-0 lead by 13:52 of the first period in Game 2. With the chance to win the Stanley Cup in front of their fans, the Avalanche will try to jump on the Lightning early again, but they will also need to control their emotions and keep their focus regardless of how the start goes.
“Any time — a playoff game, a regular season game — you want to start well,” Avalanche forward J.T. Compher said. “We’ve done that at home, but it’s going to be 60 minutes. We’ve talked about it. The hardest one to win is the one to close out a team, especially a team like this. So we know whether the start goes our way or not the first five, 10 minutes, it’s going to be a 60-minute effort, maybe even more. We’ll be ready to play our way for as long as it takes.”
Conversely, the Lightning will need to do a better job of weathering the early Avalanche storm than they did in the first two games.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said forward Andre Burakovsky, who hasn’t played since being hit in the hand with the puck in the second period of Game 2, is “a possibility for tonight.” Things are less clear for the banged-up Lightning with forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak.
Point returned to play the first two games of the Cup Final after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury, but was unable to play the past two games. Cernak left Game 4 in the second period after blocking a shot from Nathan MacKinnon off his leg. Cirelli returned to finish Game 4 after appearing to injure his arm in the second period, but his status is unclear for Game 5.
“This is definitely a game-time decision with a few of our guys,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “‘Cernie’ is feeling better, though. I’m pretty confident he’s going to play tonight.”
The Avalanche have been dominant on special teams in the Cup Final. Colorado is 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) on its power play and has killed 13 of 14 (92.9 percent) Tampa Bay power plays.
Failing to stop the Avalanche power play while not converting on their own has been a difficult combination for the Lightning to overcome in the series.
“We’d like to score on the power play. We’d like to be more productive,” Killorn said. “But more importantly, I think we’ve got to just keep them off the power play. They obviously have had a great power play and it seems like the way they’re going, pucks are kind of bouncing off skates and that’s what a good power play does. It puts themselves in a good chance and a good opportunity to score. So I think keep them off the power play and even if we do, we have tighten up and do a little better job getting pucks out of the zone.”
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Brayden Point — Nicholas Paul
Pat Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosian
Scratched: Cal Foote, Frederik Claesson, Riley Nash
Avalanche projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog — Nazem Kadri — Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Newhook — J.T. Compher — Logan O’Connor
Darren Helm — Andrew Cogliano — Nico Sturm
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Injured: Samuel Girard (sternum), Andre Burakovsky (hand)
The Lighting held an optional morning skate. … If Burakovsky is able to play, Sturm or O’Connor likely would be scratched.
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