SAN JOSE, Calif. — There’s a hockey adage that to win the Stanley Cup, an NHL team’s best players have to be just that. Unexpected heroes will emerge along the way, but a team’s stars must shine the brightest.
With the sting of a 7-0 loss the previous night still fresh, the Edmonton Oilers headed home Wednesday for Thursday night’s Game 5 in a deadlocked series, needing to figure out a way to cool suddenly hot San Jose stars Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Logan Couture while getting more production from their own high-end talent.
“We have to find the net,” Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said at the team hotel just before heading to the airport. “I expect for us to get going, for sure. We’ve had the chances, two-on-ones, things like that.”
Eberle finished the regular season with 51 points, but has only one assist in the four games played against San Jose. More dramatically, teammate Connor McDavid — the NHL’s leading scorer with 100 points in the regular season — has one short-handed goal, one power-play assist and no points at even strength.
“We’re learning as we go along. Our top scorers haven’t experienced this level of play before,” Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said less than an hour after the Game 4 loss.
Referring specifically to McDavid, he added: “He has to experience his way out of it. His teammates and coaching staff have to help him.”
The Oilers found out Wednesday night that Leon Draisaitl — their second highest scorer in the regular season with 77 points, but scoreless in the playoffs — will be available for Game 5.
The NHL scheduled a hearing to determine if Draisaitl, who received a major penalty and game misconduct in the second period of Game 4 for spearing Sharks forward Chris Tierney in the groin, would be suspended or fined. Wednesday night it was announced that he would be fined US$2,569.44, the maximum allowable under the CBA.
It’s not as if the Oilers top scorers don’t realize they need to contribute more, especially after seeing Pavelski get two goals and an assist, Burns get three assists and Couture notch two goals in that 7-0 stomping.
“We talked about their big boys stepping up and having a game like they did tonight,” Milan Lucic, who has a goal and an assist in the playoffs after a 50-point regular season, said late Tuesday night. “So it’s up to us, especially our key guys, to step up and have a game for our hockey club.
“We get an opportunity to do that in Game 5 at home,” he added.
The Sharks could say the same about their top players prior to Game 4. Burns, the NHL’s top scoring defenceman with 76 points in the regular season, had no goals or assists. Pavelski, who finished the regular season with 68 points, had one assist.
All of that changed when San Jose’s power play, which had been 1-for-14 over the first three games, finally took advantage of Edmonton’s constant parade to the penalty box. The power play was 4-for-8 in Game 4.
The Oilers said they recognize the need to make fewer trips to the penalty box if they want to slow down the top Sharks.
“There was obvious desperation in their game, and then we put them on the power play way too often,” Oiler forward Mark Letestu said Wednesday. “They’ve been to the Stanley Cup final. Their belief system is pretty strong. You put their big boys on the power play enough and they’re going to find a way.”
Oiler defenceman Adam Larsson, however, said the problem went beyond extended power play time.
“We weren’t hard enough on them,” he said. “We didn’t play them smart.”
Letestu said the Oilers should expect the Sharks to feed off their success in Game 4.
“Some guys, now that they’ve got some confidence that they can put the puck away, our task is going to be a little more difficult,” he said. “That said, we played all year to get home ice advantage and it’s a best of three series with two games at home. That’s something our team should feel real good about.”