In the NHL playoffs, Game 2 of a 7-game series isn't usually considered a "must win." After all, 7 games is quite a lengthy series, and the earlier matches typically set the stage for crunch time later on, mostly in Games 6 and 7.
However, tonight's contest might very well be a "must win" for the Edmonton Oilers. They host the Winnipeg Jets in Game 2 of the opening round of the playoffs, one of two post-season series in the North Division.
Edmonton (35-19-2) came into the series as the second seed in the North, and thus has the home ice advantage. Winnipeg (30-23-3) is the North's third seed.
The Jets went into Edmonton whipped the Oilers 4-1 in Game 1, and the game wasn't even that close. Winnipeg rode the thick pads and big stick of goalie Connor Helleybuyck who made 32 saves to preserve the win on what was his 28th birthday.
Tonight, the Oilers will have to find a better way to pierce the net.
Another postseason defeat would be devastating for the Oilers. They've only made the post-season three times in the past 15 seasons. In the prime of Connor McDavid’s career, they've done almost nothing come playoff time.
In fact, Edmonton has won just one playoff series since losing the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. The Oilers suffered a stunning upset to a weak Chicago Blackhawks team in the qualifying round of last year’s playoffs. Losing to the Jets wouldn't look nearly as bad, but the end result would still be a bitter end to the season and a feeling of unrealized potential for an exciting team that should be performing better in big games.
Now down 0-1 in the series, this makes Game 2 on Friday night something of a "must-win" for Edmonton. Consider that after hosting the first two games, the Oilers must head to Winnipeg for Games 3 and 4 in this series (Sunday and Monday). So, they don’t want to be staring at an 0-2 hole and then going on the road.
We all know the megatalents of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. While no other NHL players tallied more than 69 points in the regular season, McDavid finished up with a whopping 105 points and Draisaitl was second with 84 points.
Accordingly, McDavid cruised to the Art Ross Trophy and is considered a lock for the Hart Trophy considering what's happened this season. His 72 assists were 19 more than Draisaitl and 21 more than the next closest player, and his 33 goals ranked second in the NHL.
So, what makes tonight deperation time for the Oilers?
The problem is Edmonton's remaining roster, which isn't playoff caliber. Although the Oilers had the NHL’s two leading scorers in 2021, they ended up finishing seventh in team goals because everyone else had such little success finding the net. The rest of the team must step up if the Oilers are to make any kind of move in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg could boast three 20-goal scorers this season. Mark Scheifele led the Jets with 63 points. He's been even hotter over the last couple weeks. Scheifele has scored at least a point in six straight games and has notched 10 points in that stretch, including two assists in Winnipeg’s win over Edmonton on Wednesday night.
Kyle Connor led the Jets by scoring 26 goals during the regular season. He was Winnipeg’s clutch finisher, with 10 power play goals. Connor has also scored goals in four straight games. He's a serious threat and must be contained.
Then, there's the aforementioned goalie Connor Helleybuyck (24-17 in starts) who played lights out in Game 1. He'll face Mike Smith on the opposite side of the ice, who is 21-6 in his starts this season.
Prediction: There's far more at stake for Edmonton in this game, and with two lightning scorers, they should overcome the pressure and rise to the occasion. Laying a heavy price isn't appealing in the NHL playoffs, but if any game screams for the home team to rebound and make a strong statement, it's the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2. Prediction: Edmonton 4, Winnipeg 2