The Oilers Emotional Roller Coaster

Kinda fun having this playoff hockey back, isn’t it?

The Oilers have electrified the city with their playoff run, and even by hockey standards there feels like there’s no shortage of storylines. The San Jose series had many – the Oilers were badly outplayed in Game 1, shutout San Jose in Games 2 and 3 before getting blown out 7-0 in Game 4, broke San Jose with a late Game 5 goal before hanging on in Game 6. The Anaheim series has had massive shifts in-game; from Game 1’s insane four-goal third period, to Game 3’s insane everything… it’s been a series with no shortage of things to talk about. So let’s get to it.

Embracing the Dark Arts.

I escaped night class yesterday to catch the tail end of the Capitals/Penguins game. Similar to the rest of the series, the Capitals heaped pressure on the Penguins, who relied on the heroics of Marc-Andre Fleury (I never thought I’d write that again). With 1:52 to go, TJ Oshie pursued Nick Bonino. Upon feeling Oshie’s stick on his arm, Bonino threw his head violently back, drew the penalty, and ended the game. Bonino was criticized… and victorious. The internet was quick to point out Oshie had done something very similar last playoffs.

In Game 5 of the Columbus/Pittsburgh series, Columbus was making a furious comeback, reducing a 3-0 deficit to 3-2. They scored the tying goal as Alexander Wennberg was pushed into Marc-Andre Fleury, who acted as if a sniper had picked him off from Row 90. The goal was called back, Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing power play. Series over.

Earlier this series, John Gibson was brushed against behind his net. He fell over. He didn’t have to fall over, but he did. Ducks power play.

Last night, Cam Talbot was interfered with as Ryan Getzlaf fired a puck into the net. A confusingly long video-review ensued. The goal counted. Talbot was understandably frustrated and made this salient point.

It’s sad that what Talbot says is true, and it’s sad the NHL has created a culture where you have to fall over to get a call. But I have no doubt that if Talbot had exaggerated contact, the Oilers would have remained 2-0 and maybe even had a power play.

North Americans like to act like diving is a soccer phenomenon, but it’s crept into all of our sports as well. Basketball has tons of flopping and players the size of LeBron James violently spasm if someone taps their wrist; hockey has players snapping heads, goalies (from Carey Price to Henrik Lundqvist) throwing themselves back if a player grazes them; even football (!) has seen an increase in players throwing themselves to the ground following extra-curricular activities. Players do this because it works.

Leagues like the NHL trot out corrective practices like fining divers, but enforcement goes the way of obstruction or goalie equipment crackdowns – they lose interest after a few weeks. To a degree, I get this – does a league really want to publicly shame 5-10 of its players on a nightly basis, and draw attention to a league-wide issue? To clean up the game, the NHL requires leadership. It doesn’t have that. Flop on.

Making It Difficult To Love  You, NHL.

Saying “Talbot should have dived” shouldn’t excuse the officials. The ruling on the first Ducks goal was wildly inconsistent with everything I have watched this year, and I’m still perplexed as to how NHL referees could allow that (maybe it would help if they weren’t watching replays on a 13′ iPad… but I digress).

Playoff hockey accentuates some of the problems with how the game is policed. Rules – like hooking and obstruction – are… lets say… relaxed in the playoffs. But other rules of the ticky-tacky variety, like firing the puck over the glass or breaking a guy’s stick with a tap – are enforced because they don’t allow for grey area or interpretation.

This won’t change until the inevitable game winning goal on a 5-on-3 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final resulting from two over-the-glass penalties is called back because a player was an inch offside a minute and a half prior.

What now, Oilers?

I’ll admit I thought this series was over, and have been accused of “jinxing” the Oilers. To these accusers, I am sorry.

At the end of the day, a 2-2 split isn’t a disaster, and the Oilers don’t have to worry about a particularly difficult road atmosphere in Anaheim.

Turning this series back in the Oilers favour will likely depend on two things. Can the Oilers $6 million men – Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – give them anything?

Lucic has been a turnover waiting to happen, and Eberle/RNH have combined for 20 GP, 0 G, 5 A (Elliott Friedman wondered if Eberle should be a healthy scratch next game). Perhaps these stat lines would be accepted if these players weren’t so centrally involved in Ducks goals last night.

Connor McDavid can only carry so many players on his back, and Ryan Kesler already has claimed his spot.

McDavid has been his usual excellent self this playoffs, but the Oilers may require one of his truly great performances to get over the finish line.

Begrudging admiration for a great playoff performance.

It’s tough to concede when an opponent is having a great series/playoffs, but Ryan Getzlaf has been incredible.

Oilers fans are hung up on his superhuman ability to avoid penalties, but he has checked off every leadership cliche by bringing the Ducks back from the brink.

It may be treasonous to say, but I’ve always been a Getzlaf fan.

I remember watching Anaheim’s 2009 playoff run. The Ducks crept into the playoffs that year, before knocking off the President’s Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks in six games.

But it’s the second round that was noteworthy. The Ducks ran into the No. 2 seeded Detroit Red Wings, where Getzlaf and Pavel Datsyuk elevated their play way beyond anyone else on the ice. The Ducks lost in 7 and Getzlaf ended with 18 points in 13 playoff games.

This performance is not dissimilar. He’s killing the Oilers. We can only hope he falls just short again.

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