For those who read my hockey posts, you will know that I cover the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Maple Leafs have been eliminated. That said, I still appreciate hockey; and, with no Toronto games to cover, I thought I would turn my analysis to another series every once in a while.
The second-round series between the Edmonton Oilers vs the Calgary Flames is the best second-round series of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. It is rock-em, sock-em hockey at its best and will likely result in a large number of hurting Albertans by the time the series is complete.
For fans of old-time hockey, this round-two Battle of Alberta has been exciting hockey to say the least. The opening game saw 15 goals scored between the two teams. It was a game that fans will remember, but a game that all three goalies who played in it would probably love to forget.
There’s No Love Lost Between These Two Teams
Certainly, there’s no love lost between these two teams. It’s a playoff series that’s been 31 years in the making and, even after only two games, it’s been worth the wait. The NHL and team owners should take note: this is what a true rivalry produces. So far, it’s the most dynamic of the four round-two series. The other three series are snoozers by comparison.
Given the level of physicality and back-and-forth, the prices for tickets probably jumped several times. It’s a ticket scalper’s paradise. In the two games thus far, this is a good old rock-em-sock-em Canadian slugfest. The Hockey Night in Canada cameras are taking advantage on the bumping, the chirping, and the parade of penalties.
These Two Teams Can Score Quickly
During Game 1, if you were an Oilers fan and took a breather when the score stood at 6-2 for the Flames, you’d have been shocked to return to your television screen not long after to see that the game was tied 6-6. It didn’t take long for the Flames to score the first six goals, and it didn’t take long for an Oilers team to mount a determined comeback.
Both teams can take heart in their scoring abilities. Although the Flames came back to win Game 1 by a score of 9-6, the Oilers now know they can quickly mount a four-goal recovery. Game 2 was tighter, but it was also meaner. The refs interjected their presence into the game by calling off two Oilers goals and one Flames goal.
Both Teams – But Especially the Flames – Must Practice More Discipline
In addition, the referees (rightfully I believe) also started calling more penalties and set up a virtual parade to the penalty box. The Oilers capitalized on those penalties because their special teams were far better. Those special teams won Game 2 for them.
Thus far, despite both teams’ need for more disciplined play, there seems to be no desire by either team to seek disciplined play. If the Flames and Oilers continue with the same philosophy they’ve shown in Game 1 and Game 2, fans should expect the penalty box to continue to fill up. In fact, the team that commits to practicing team discipline might be the team that eventually wins this series.
Will Game 3 Continue to Highlight Special Team’s Play?
Will Game 3 continue to be about special teams? Game 2 fell into some after-the-whistle cross-checking, hacking, high-sticking, slashing, punching, and face-washing. The blind-side hits are starting to add up. It’s a situation where fans of each team will likely grow to appreciate their own team’s “tough” play, while at the same time come to despise the other team’s “dirty” play. It’s a matter of perspective.
Certainly, before the series started, the smart money was on the Flames to win. The Oilers might have more elite players, but the Flames might have greater depth. However, if the special team’s play continues unabated, there seems to be a great chance for the Oilers to move to round three. It might all rest on the penalties.
While both teams have solid and punishing offenses, the Oilers have the more elite skilled players. Flames coach Darryl Sutter admitted as much after Game 2 last night.
The Oilers Have Taken Advantage of Two Flames’ Problems
Surprisingly, after two games, goaltending seems to be both teams’ Achilles heel. Frankly, the Oilers’ goaltending was seen as iffier before the series began. In contrast, Markstrom was seen as the stronger goalie. He might be; however, in truth, although Smith was pulled in Game 1, he played far better than Markstrom played in Game 2.
At the same time, for as elite as Markstrom looked during the regular season, the Oilers must have studied game film. They knew exactly where to shoot on Markstrom and beat him several times just over his glove hand.
The Oilers have also discovered a second chink in the Flames’ armor. The Flames’ defense is slower. When the Oilers’ skaters got a jump on the Flames’ defenders, there was breakaway after breakaway. In Game 2, the Oilers’ had three breakaways, which resulted in two goals.
The Flames Are Pushing the Oilers to a Different Level of Play
The Oilers are gaining confidence. They recovered from both four-goal and two-goal deficits, so they know if they fall behind they can come back. As well, the Oilers’ speed and pressure in Game 2 forced the Flames to pass with less time to think. That pressure resulted in bobbled pucks, missed set-plays, and costly turnovers.
If the Oilers do advance, and it’s starting to look as if they have a chance, they can thank the Flames for pushing them to raise their overall level by several notches. That also includes the great Connor McDavid, who – if you can believe it – has found another gear. Will it continue?
I predict that the winner of Game 3 will also be the winner of this series. One thing seems certain: if these teams continue to play with the intensity they’ve shown thus far in the series, there will truly be two teams of “hurtin’ Albertans” if the series goes more than five games.
[Want to say thanks to my friend Greg who talks hockey with me regularly.]
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