CALGARY — Everyone knows how hard it is to eliminate a group of National Hockey League players, or more specifically, to send a Calgary Flames team that won 50 regular season games into its summer.
But just in case any of the Edmonton Oilers needed a refresher, many were watching Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues forged a heroic comeback on the road in Denver. Down 3-1 in the series and 3-0 in the game, the Blues scored four goals, two in the last five minutes including one after going down 4-3, and won a game in overtime to stay alive.
Game 5 can be seen on Sportsnet, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. MT.
“Just another thing to see in your head, that you know it’s not going to be easy,” said Edmonton defenceman Brett Kulak, who played for the Montreal Canadiens team that came back from down 3-1 to beat Toronto a year ago. “We’re in a good spot this series (up 3-1), but the job’s not done. We all we all know what needs to get done and we got one more win to go. Now, we’re looking to get it.”
So, how does Edmonton match Calgary’s desperation in Game 5?
“We are desperate to close the series. That’s how,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who was all business Thursday morning. “We want to come out and have a strong performance. play our best game in the series, and close the series out.”
Matthew Tkachuk scored 42 goals in the regular season, and opened this series with a Game 1 hat trick. Since then, he chipped in just a single assist in the next three games, all Flames losses.
There was a time when No. 19 wore the black hat in the Battle of Alberta, and used that antagonistic side of his game to inject himself into the series. Usually offence followed, and when it was all said and done, “Matthew” and “Tkachuk” were the two words trending in both Northern and Southern Alberta.
Thus far in Round 2, Tkachuk has been neither pest nor producer, something that will have to change if the Flames are going to turn this thing around.
What has to change?
“Just the skill set. He’s got to use it more to his advantage,” his coach, Darryl Sutter, said. “It’s got nothing to do with effort, with any of our guys who haven’t been as productive after Game 1 of the series. But you have to give Edmonton credit in that too.
“Maybe our guys are doing all they can. Maybe Edmonton is just a little bit better,” Sutter proposed. “That’s kind of the (sidebar) that nobody’s talked about. It’s always been about the negative. Not the good stuff that’s gone on.”
So far, the best Flames forward in this series has been Mikael Backlund, but he’s a 12-goal guy. If the big boys don’t weigh in — starting with Game 5 — it’s hard to see Calgary winning three straight over Edmonton.
As for Johnny Gaudreau, who is a pending UFA, Thursday night could be his last game at the Saddledome — or for the Flames organization, for that matter. He’s not looking ahead that far, of course.
“I really enjoy playing with all these guys in this locker room,” Gaudreau said. “We have a good group in there. It’s been fun all year long.”
Defenceman Chris Tanev took the morning skate next to Oliver Kylington and looks to be in for the Flames again in Game 5. His suspected shoulder injury cost him four playoff games — from Game 7 of Round 1 through Game 3 of Round 2 — and left him doubled over in pain on the Calgary bench at times upon his return in Game 4.
The Flames like their leader on the ice and in their midst, even if it’s pretty clear they are getting something less than 90 percent of their assistant captain.
“You know, even-strength minutes, he was really good last game,” said Sutter of the 17:12 Tanev played at even-strength (19:24 in total). “He made his partner a better player, and with the experience on our back end — or lack of experience or back end — he was important.”
Plenty of players are playing through the pain here, on both sides. Namely, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse for Edmonton, who have both gutted their way through these playoffs at something less than 100 per cent.
“He’s such a huge part of our team on and off the ice.” Tkachuk said of Tanev. “So, when you get a guy like that to come in for a big game, that definitely motivates you to be a lot.”
“We won 55 games this year. We’re pretty good at getting set for the next one.”
Looks like the same lines as Game 4 for both teams, with Tanev still a bit of question mark and Draisaitl and Nurse once again eschewing the skate.
Evander Kane, whose partner gave birth to a newborn son on Wednesday, remained at home in Edmonton. He’ll be down in time for the game. In other Oilers news, the Finnish media continues to report that goalie Mikko Koskinen is headed for Lugano in the Swiss League next season.
Here are Thursday night’s expected lineups.