DENVER — Connor McDavid has dominated the NHL postseason to date. But even he is feeling the pressure to perform after the Edmonton Oilers were shut out 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday, falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“I probably haven’t been at the top of my game here,” McDavid said. “They’ve done a good job limiting our chances. They found a way to break through [tonight]. We didn’t.”
Edmonton has been powered by its superstars throughout the playoffs, and McDavid has been particularly impressive. He paces all playoff skaters with 29 points in 14 games and was a dominant force in the Oilers’ second-round series victory over the Calgary Flames.
McDavid did notch one goal and three points in Game 1 against the Avalanche, an 8-6 loss for the Oilers. But like everyone else on Edmonton’s bench, he was minimized in Game 2 by a relentless Colorado team that dictated much of the game with quick transition play and rush chances.
Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft had tried to spark the Oilers by spreading out his top skaters, putting McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on separate lines to start Game 2. Draisaitl slotted in with Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while McDavid paired with Evander Kane and Zach Hyman.
The change didn’t have the desired effect on Edmonton as a whole.
“We did some things to move the chess pieces around,” Woodcroft said. “We didn’t do enough to make it hard on the opposing goaltender; we had some chances but not nearly enough. Tonight didn’t go our way, but we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Game 1 was such an offense-heavy affair, both sides committed to better defense in Game 2. That came somewhat to fruition in a scoreless first period in which shots favored Colorado, 15-13.
Both goaltenders, Mike Smith and Pavel Francouz (starting in place of the injured Darcy Kuemper), were excellent in that frame, making key stops to hold the tie.
Then, in the span of 2:04, it was 3-0 Avalanche.
Artturi Lehkonen had the game’s ice-breaker early in the second period, followed 15 seconds later by a goal from Josh Manson.
Woodcroft took a timeout to settle his team down. It didn’t help.
A bad line change by the Oilers set up an odd-man rush for Colorado that turned into another goal, this one from Mikko Rantanen.
Nazem Kadri assisted on all three goals.
“They definitely feed off momentum,” McDavid said. “They find ways to compound one and turn it into three there. Obviously, it’s on us to grab that. It seems likes shifts after goals — either for or against — have hurt us over the last couple of games. The shift after, they find a way to score right after.”
Edmonton also wasted what was a terrific performance by Smith. The veteran had been pulled midway through Game 1 after allowing six goals but clearly had put that behind him in a pristine first period that required several key stops on the attacking Avalanche.
The Oilers simply couldn’t give him any help. Colorado was all over Edmonton with good sticks breaking up chances and refusing to allow the Oilers any significant offensive zone time. By early in the third period, Edmonton was 0-for-2 on the power play and had been outshot 31-22.
“I thought we pushed back, we generated some offense,” Woodcroft said. “That little span in the second period really hurt us, took the wind out of our sails. We weren’t able to generate.”
Nathan MacKinnon added to the Avalanche’s haul later in the third to make it 4-0 Colorado.
“I thought we played a good first,” Tyson Barrie said. “There’s just a bit of a stretch in the second there where they got one and we compounded it — they got two, they got three. And that’s momentum. That’s how this team rolls. We’ve got to do a better job at when they do get one, we’ve got to stop the bleeding.”
As it was, Edmonton couldn’t get a single puck past Francouz. Colorado started its backup for the first time this series, after losing Kuemper to an upper-body ailment midway through Game 1. Francouz posted the second playoff shutout of his career in a 24-save performance.
The series shifts to Edmonton for Game 3 on Saturday, where the Oilers will try to use their home crowd to their advantage and get back in the series.
“We’ve come to a building on the road, we didn’t win,” Woodcroft said. “Now it’s on us to go back, regroup, clearly look at the things we can get better and go out and execute on home ice.”