It happens to a lot of people who go to Las Vegas. You head to Sin City, then return home with one heck of a hangover.
After splitting the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal series in Vegas, the Edmonton Oilers were anything but sharp back on home ice Monday night.
The Oilers looked blurry-eyed and sluggish for most of Game 3. The 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights was easily their worst game of the playoffs — and, it might have been the most frustrating game this team has played since mid-March, when they gave up seven on a Saturday night in Toronto.
Does this team learn anything from this beat down ahead of Game 4 on Wednesday, or is it simply a case of forgetting it ever happened?
“I think you can take things out of this game, for sure,” said Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had a career-high 104 points in the regular season but has yet to score in the playoffs.
“This feeling we have right now, we’re going to flush and look for a good work day tomorrow. Definitely, there’s going to be things we want to go over and improve on come Wednesday.”
The Knights had starting goalie Laurent Brossoit leave the game in the first period due to injury, and Adin Hill stopped all 25 shots he faced in relief, outplaying Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner and backup Jack Campbell, who took over halfway through the second period. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid were held off the scoresheet.
On a night when pouring rain forced the cancellation of all the planned outdoor watch parties in downtown Edmonton, the Knights rained all over the Oilers’ parade inside Rogers Place.
But, if there’s one takeaway from this year’s playoffs, it’s that momentum means nothing — unless you’re the Florida Panthers. One team dominates one night, only to lose badly the next. New Jersey gets absolutely schooled in the first two games of its series with the Carolina Hurricanes, then score eight in a Game 3 victory.
And, the Oilers played Monday’s stinker after sparkling in Vegas on Saturday night, a 5-1 win that was never in doubt.
“There’s going to be momentum swings, there’s going to be ups and downs,” said McDavid. “Obviously, you saw that tonight — a big momentum swing the other way. We’ve got to grab it back.
“We’ve bounced back before. Obviously, it’s a big Game 4, and we understand that. I expect, again, that sense of urgency to go up. I would expect our best game in Game 4.”
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said that Vegas may have dominated Game 3, but insisted the Oilers’ confidence level will not dip.
“It’s not concerning. I think we know in here as a group that we can be much better,” said Nurse. “Our response has to be big. … You go into a series expecting it to be a long one. It’s a very good team on the other side, one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs.
“But we’re a good team ourselves and we have a lot of faith and confidence in our game. We have to bring that every night, and we haven’t done that consistently in the first three.”
The Oilers will practise early Tuesday afternoon. Coach Jay Woodcroft won’t go old-school and bag skate his troops, but expect to see him demand that his players not only get back into winning form, but brush up on what went so wrong Monday.
“We’re going to dig into the things that didn’t go right tonight,” said Woodcroft. “We’re going to work to correct them. Part of that is self-assessment, number 1.
“And two, the ability to give your team something that they can sink their teeth into or hang their hat on. In the end, we know what they showed tonight isn’t the recipe, it wasn’t good enough. We own that, and we’re going to work to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”