Column by François Gagnon: The magic of McDavid, the Oilers win

CALGARY — The magic of Connor McDavid, the great talent of Leon Draisaitl, the reassuring experience of the venerable Duncan Keith and a much better collective performance allowed the Oilers to create the odds in the Battle of Alberta pitting them against the Flames of Calgary , to balance.

McDavid and his band played significantly better than in the first game. They also and above all played much better than their big competitors. They absolutely deserved their 5:3 victory.

Aside from the sensational plays of McDavid, who added a goal and an assist to win to reach the 20-point plateau in nine playoff games, the Flames have greatly aided the Oilers’ cause.

For the second game in a row, the Flames quickly took the lead. Not as fast as on Wednesday with two goals in 51 seconds. But still: After six minutes and dust it was already 2-0 for Calgary.

More gifts from the Oilers goalie?

Not really!

Mike Smith also started the game strong. He made a save on the first shot of the game at Johnny Gaudreau’s expense. The kind of stop he desperately needed to boost his confidence and that of his teammates.

But the Oilers goalie conceded the first goal on the next shot. A good slapshot from defender Michael Stone. Three minutes later, completely forgotten in front of the Oilers’ net, Brett Ritchie doubled the lead on the Flames’ seventh shot.

Aside from two goals from seven shots and just three chances to score, the Flames set the pace on the ice. He beat the Oilers round. And even with Jay Woodcroft multiplying the presence of his first line – McDavid, Draisaitl and Evander Kane were reunited – the Flames were in complete control of the game in the opening moments of the game.

By playing like them, we didn’t give much of the Oilers skin. In the game as in the series.

A game then turned the tide. At least in my eyes.

Kailer Yamamoto completely screwed up an exit zone. A terrible game. For real. Mikael Backlund received the puck as a gift on the Oilers blue line. He found himself alone in front of Smith and had all the time in the world to strategize how to outsmart him.

Instead of shooting fast to take advantage of the fact that Smith was chasing him, a little shaken by the two quick goals he’d just given up, Backlund tried a big maneuver with the puck. He stupidly lost her. Smith didn’t even have to parry.

Like Backlund, who seemed to be taking the game a little too easy, the Flames then went downhill. Not only did they miss a great opportunity to take a 3-0 lead, but they never showed the same aggressiveness from the first moments of the game.

McDavid and the Oilers knew how to take advantage of that.

McDavid used his speed, ability to change direction without warning, intelligence, creativity and also a healthy dose of strength to protect the puck and orchestrated a fine play that allowed Keith to score his first series goal.

McDavid also allowed himself to restrain defenseman Rasmus Andersson’s stick with one hand while controlling the puck around the Flames’ net with the other. A helpless victim of that goal, Andersson took his case to referees Chris Lee and Steve Kozari. But they remained unperturbed.

Despite conceding a goal after the first half, the Oilers regained control of the game. In fact, not only did they lead by 14-12 shots, I gave them nine chances to score. Five more than the flames.

Another wasted advance

A Tyler Toffoli goal, scored early in the middle period after the Oilers had been caught with six players fully engaged, would propel the Flames to victory once again. Or undermine the Oilers’ confidence.

But exactly the opposite happened.

The Oilers continued to play big hockey. The Flames continued to watch them too much. Results. With four unanswered goals and two more disallowed by the umpires, the Oilers turned the 3-1 loss that weighed on them early in the second period into a 5-3 lead.

Brilliant with Keith’s goal, McDavid even more so with the goal he scored just a minute after Toffoli’s. McDavid was hit hard by tall defender Nikita Zadorov and took the hit while maintaining control of the puck, which he expertly passed to Keith. The defender joined his captain, who quickly escaped from Zadorov, and McDavid got Jacob Markstrom out of his skates and also out of his pads to slide the puck into an empty cage.

The Flames reluctantly allowed six massive attacks on the Oilers, who benefited in the end. Evan Bouchard leveled the odds with a powerful slap shot that he directed into the wide opening of Markstrom, who poorly covered his angles in the sequence.

The Flames’ lack of conviction was reflected in two breakaways offered to the Oilers in the third period: the first to Zach Hyman while the Flames mounted a massive attack; the second at Draisaitl.

Hyman scored to give the Oilers their first lead of the series. Draisaitl followed suit and scored an insurance goal.

“We started late again tonight but we still showed a lot of conviction to come back from behind. We’ve proven once again that our ability to recover is extraordinary,” said Hyman, who then made sure to pay tribute to his captain.

“A guy may enjoy being considered the best hockey player in the world. Not Connor! added Hyman, who fired 10 shots at the Flames’ net, including six on target.

“I’ve seen a great leader willing to do anything to help his team’s cause. In addition to his offensive performance, Connor was physically involved. Late in the game he was first in line to defend the lead,” added Jay Woodcroft in a chorus of praise for McDavid.

The Oilers head coach also praised all of his players.

“We deserved this win because all of our players paid the necessary price to win. We came back from the back again tonight. We kept the faith. We had a fight. We were much better in effort and execution. We also won the battle of the special forces. I know we only scored one goal in five against four. But we created a lot of very good chances. And by spending as much time as we did in their zone during our massive attacks, we created momentum and tired key players on the other side. We needed a solid game from everyone and that’s what we got. Although two of those goals were disallowed, we managed to score seven tonight.”

Speaking of key players, Gaudreau (two assists), Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm (one assist each) collected four points together. But it seems to me that the Flames and their fans can get more out of their top line.

In fact, they’re going to have to get more if they’re to regain control of a series that could be hotter than many observers anticipated.

However, the Flames are not in uncharted territory, losing Game 2 to the Dallas Stars in Round 1 only to eventually win the series in Game 7 in overtime.

In fact, the Flames lost Game 2 of a series for the 12th straight game.

The third will be played in Edmonton on Sunday.

Good news for fans in the east of the country who had to stay up very late or just didn’t see the second game which started at 10.45pm with Sunday’s game starting at 8pm.

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