It can never be said that the general public wasn’t warned about this. This series was always going to be frustrating, surrealist theater with members of each bench desperately trying to give games away, and by the time the final horn blew on Wednesday night, the Oilers had managed to do so in rather impressive fashion, and now sit on the brink of heading home from the preliminary round of whatever these playoffs are despite having at least one, if not two, of the best players on the planet.
There’s not much more Dave Tippett and his charges could have wanted out of the first 50 minutes of Game 3. They dictated the a small majority of the 5 on 5 action prior to the start of the third period largely due to Coach Jeremy Gibron’s complete refusal to match lines with any kind of regularity, consideration, or consistency; a third period they went into with a lead thanks to a waning seconds goal from McJesus. They had gotten at least representative goaltending from Mikko Koskinen, who had been aided by a few posts, and their penalty kill held strong even in the face of repeated needless and selfish penalties coming from the Oilers in a special teams heavy 2nd period. But Tippett dialed things back a bit and tried to sit on a lead, and this blue line is in no way built to do that even with a healthy Adam Larsson in the lineup. The Oilers took what was given to them and gave it right back. If nothing else, it makes for high drama with everyone playing a part.
To this point there has been no word on Larsson’s availability for this evening, nor has there been any regarding who will replace Tyler Ennis in the lineup after right leg turned to Cheeto dust under a (clean) check from Kirby Dach. But aside from that, there’s not really much in the Toolbox Of Concepts that Tippett needs to reach for given both his roster and his counterpart’s limitations. The recipe remains the same- Toss 29 and 97 out there and let Jeremy Prinze Jr. try to counter with Olli Maata coming out of a break YET AGAIN.
As for the Hawks, what a difference a few springs without playoff hockey makes, huh? To hear the DISCOURSE yesterday, one would think that there weren’t three Conn Smythe winners still on this roster and three very recent banners hanging on West Madison. A team that has tripped over its own dick at every turn for going on 15 years predictably did so again, and all of the sudden Game 3 was a VINTAGE Hawks performance. What a fantastic thing lowered expectations can be, even from a team that still on paper claims to kinda sorta have championship aspirations. And though the result was positive, the process by which they got there was infuriating. While Alex Nylander was finally kicked out of the top 6, he was still getting power play time, and the defensive pairings still remain poorly matched and bafflingly deployed. That Olli Maata is in the lineup (goals be damned) and allowed to have the best seat in the house on all three Oilers goals due to his coach putting him out there against McDavid and Draisaitl while having last change is enough to make anyone who has ever even half paid attention to what actual coaching and structure looks like is infuriating. And yet there’s still a rush to declare this a signature win even when this series is very far from over.
It’s not all turds in punchbowls though, as the Toews line once again was able to tilt the ice in its favor throughout the entire game, and they obviously came up with the decider on Toews’ deflection, in spite of the coach not really trying to find matchups for him. That’s basically been the shorthand for this series three games in – when Toews gets what he wants 5v5, the Hawks have a much better shot at winning a game. Incredibly deep and insightful stuff that can only be found here, truly. Also, Kirby Dach may not have dented the score sheet, and he may not have also announced his presence to the hockey world as some others have already declared, but he definitely looks as lively as he has since coming up, and the retooled 2nd line made themselves dangerous out there. Also, Corey Crawford finally started to appear a little more stable by the third period of Game 3, and hopefully he’s rounding into form, because the Hawks are not going to win either of the next two games without him being some semblance of his usual self.
Under normal circumstances, the strategy tonight in an elimination scenario with last change would be to ride the Toews line as hard as is possible, using it both to attack and to check either McClavicle or Leon, or a best case scenario, do both at once. Nothing keeps those two off the scoresheet like making them have to defend. However, it appears that along with being in the Covid Era, we are also now in the Quantumn Realm where all notions of matchups and deployment cease to have any meaning and one can descend into utter madness for eternity. So none of this really means anything except the Hawks best players, namely Toews and Crawford, need to be their best players. Again, this is no longer a pay site, this wisdom is free once again. Ride the Snake. Let’s go Hawks.