The Oilers are up 2-1 in the series after winning an extremely tight checking game on Sunday by a thin margin of just one goal. Cam Talbot posted his second shutout in a row, and early playoff MVP candidate Zack Kassian scored the game winning goal.
Edmonton faces the Sharks again tonight at 8pm mountain time as they look to take a stranglehold on the series with another win. Winning a game in enemy territory was a massive accomplishment for this team, and another one tonight would be even more impressive.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, as there’s still a whole lot of hockey to be played between the two Pacific Division squads.
Todd McLellan put the forward lines in a blender in the third period on Sunday, and I like what we saw from the new combinations. Running three lines centred around McDavid, Nuge and Leon is the ideal setup in my mind, as it creates a matchup nightmare for Pete DeBoer.
Matching the Vlasic pair against the McDavid line, and the Burns pair against the Nuge line? Well, that leaves Draisaitl against your third pair. Burns against Draisaitl and Vlasic against McJesus? Nuge is still open.
I like the possibilities here.
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Anton Slepyshev
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
Drake Caggiula – Leon Draisaitl – Zack Kassian
Benoit Pouliot – Mark Letestu – David Desharnais
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Andrej Sekera – Kris Russell
Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning
Starting Goalie: Cam Talbot
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Jannik Hansen – Tomas Hertl – Joonas Donskoi
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Marcus Sorensen
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko
Starting Goalie: Martin Jones
Keys to the Game
Weather the storm. The Sharks are sure to come out strong in the first period, just as they did on Sunday. The Oilers will have to tune out the noise of the Shark Tank and counter the energy that San Jose will bring right out of the gate. It’ll be important to stick to the game plan and play the fast-paced, dynamic, heavy forechecking brand of hockey that the Oilers have shown they can play so well.
Don’t take stupid penalties. The Oilers need to take some notes from Jamie Benn and stay the hell out of the box. The penalty kill has been fantastic, but that’s not exactly something you want to become reliant on. The Oilers cleaned it up a bit in game three, only taking two minor penalties, but things like Drake Caggiula’s boarding penalty in the second period simply can’t happen.
Players to Watch
Connor McDavid. McJesus has yet to notch a point at even strength in the series, so look for him to break out at 5v5. It’s only a matter of time until the regular season even strength scoring leader (71 points) finds the back of the net.
Leon Draisaitl. If McLellan keeps Leon at the centre position on his own line, which I hope he does, look for the young German to have a strong game. When the big man moves his feet he can cover a whole bunch of ice, and playing in the middle forces him to do just that.
Zack Kassian. Pisani2.0 has been a Tasmanian Devil on skates, throwing massive hits and scoring important goals. When Kassian is on the ice, you know that the Sharks are hearing footsteps behind them. He’s playing the best hockey of his life and adding a crucial element of depth to this forward group.
I won’t speak to the outcome of the game, but I do have a feeling that Jordan Eberle will pop in his first career playoff goal tonight. The Oilers are in a good position heading into game four, but it’s up to them to prove that they deserve to win this series.
Buckle up, Oilers fans. Big game tonight.
You can find me on Twitter @SullivanJLarson