With one team down 3-0 and another down 2-1, tonight is a big night of hockey for the two remaining Canadian teams. At the beginning of the second round, the Leafs and Oilers were the favorites to win their respective conferences. Now, the Oilers are trying to avoid going down 3-1 and losing back-to-back at home, while the Leafs are staring down a three-game deficit. With these games being the biggest of the year for both teams, how will they respond?
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are going to have to find a way to get their offence going tonight, and it starts with their stars. The core four has not scored a goal yet in this series and the team has only scored six. With this Toronto team, playoff success won’t come from defensive 2-1 games, and I think everyone recognizes that, including the Panthers. Unfortunately, Toronto will also be without Ilya Samsonov in net, so the need for offence is even greater than usual.
Although it’s a mountain of a task that’s only been done four times in NHL history, the Leafs aren’t dead yet. If they can steal one tonight, they’ll get to go back home with a chance to grab two straight wins and get momentum back on their side. They deserve what they’ve gotten so far, but at some point, you’d hope that the offensive firepower would at least win them a game.
From Florida’s perspective, I expect nothing to change. If you can beat a team three times in a row, you’ve got to be bringing the exact same plan for the fourth game. It’ll be another night of hard forechecking, solid defensive structure, and hopefully relying on Bobrovsky to continue making big saves at the right time.
The Oilers aren’t quite in the same position as Toronto, but their chances of moving on if they lose this game will be almost the same. Thankfully, their stars have been doing all they can in this postseason, but it’s the supporting cast that needs to step up now. After having a career season and recording over 100 points, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is yet to score in the playoffs. Despite scoring three goals in the first series, Evander Kane has been held off the scoresheet completely in the second round.
It’s not just offense though. In their two losses, Edmonton has let in a combined eleven goals. In their Game 2 win, they conceded just one. To come back and win not only this game but also the series, Stuart Skinner will have to be more consistent. The rookie goaltender currently holds a GAA of 3.60 and an SVP of 0.889. It’s true that the Oilers play more of a run and gun style than most teams and that they can win high-scoring games, but in the playoffs, you need to win games in more than one way to really be successful. In every one of their postseason wins so far, they’ve scored at least four goals. If the Oilers can’t win a tight, low-scoring game against a team like the Knights at least once in this series, they may not be moving on.
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