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Oilers believe there's 'nothing to sulk about' after Game 3 loss

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EDMONTON — Kris Knoblauch needed someone — anyone — to step up.

The Oilers were taking on water after a flying start to Game 3 of the NHL's Western Conference final.

Connor McDavid had been shot out of a cannon, setting up Edmonton's first goal and scoring another in Monday's quick-strike opening 20 minutes that saw the home side lead 2-0 and hold the Dallas Stars to just three shots.

The momentum, however, was resoundingly flipped after the intermission. And the Oilers didn't respond nearly quick enough.

Every line Knoblauch, the team's rookie head coach, sent over the boards in that disastrous 10-minute stretch to open the second was on its heels as the Stars poured into the offensive zone in white-and-green waves.

McDavid's trio couldn't get traction. Leon Draisaitl's and his wingers didn't have any luck either. It was more of the same from the third and fourth units.

Before they knew it, the Oilers were down 3-2.

Edmonton would eventually get back on stable ground, tying the score 3-3, before Dallas winger Jason Robertson completed his hat trick midway through the third period in a 5-3 victory that pushed the Stars ahead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"We got away from our game," Knoblauch said Tuesday. "I don't want to take anything away from Dallas. They played a much better period in the second period than they did in the first. But I look back at what we were doing.

"There's some things that we weren't doing the second period that we were in the first."

That included failing to make simple plays at the Oilers' blue line and missed assignments in the defensive zone — a lack of attention to detail that has popped up at different points this spring. Edmonton blew a 4-1 lead in Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks in the second round before nearly doing the same with a 3-0 advantage in Game 7.

And then there was Monday's dramatic shift.

"It's just small, little details," continued Knoblauch, whose team hosts Game 4 on Wednesday. "For us to be successful, those small details are non-negotiable. If we're going to have success, we need everyone doing them every single time."

The Oilers haven't scored a goal in the third period in this series and are 0-4 in the playoffs when tied through 40 minutes, including 0-2 against Dallas after winning Game 1 in double overtime.

"We haven't done a good enough job of being stubborn with it and closing out games," Draisaitl said. "That's a big part of our team."

On the other side, second-year centre Wyatt Johnson said the veteran presence in a Dallas locker room that also qualified for last season's conference final makes a huge difference in moments like the aftermath of Monday's first period.

"We have the patience, the confidence," said the 21-year-old, who scored his team's third goal in Game 3. "If we don't have a great period, we take that intermission and regain our thoughts and settle down a bit."

Edmonton, meanwhile, didn't respond quickly enough facing a similar situation Monday in a series that has seen some wild swings.

"They're a really good team," said Oilers winger Zach Hyman, who scored Monday's opener and tops the post-season with 13 goals. "There are times in the game we absolutely dominate and there are times in the game where they're dominating."

Edmonton also trailed Vancouver 2-1 heading into Game 4 at home and won't be deviating from its process.

"There's nothing to be upset about, there's nothing to sulk about," Hyman said. "We've been in this position before. We have a great opportunity … Game 4 at home to send it to a best-of-three.

"That's the mindset that we should have."

But if things once again go of script, the Oilers will need a much better response — or face an uphill climb down 3-1 when they board the plane back to Texas.

DIFFERENT APPROACH

The Stars aren't nearly as physical as the Los Angeles Kings — Edmonton's first-round opponent — or the Canucks. Scrums after the whistle and general animosity just haven't been there against Dallas.

"They've almost tried to lull things to sleep," Oilers winger Evander Kane said. "A tactic on their end. We can be more physical as a group."

STRUGGLING NURSE

Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse was on the ice for the third and fourth Dallas goals in Game 3, dropping him to minus-12 — the worst of any player in the 2024 post-season.

Knoblauch pushed back on that ugly number, but added the blueliner with two playoff assists and a US$9.25-million salary cap hit has more to give.

"It's just playing on instincts," he said. "I don't know (a defenceman) in NHL that is able to get around the ice as quick as he can and close plays off. He's so efficient at that … something he's got to be doing every shift.

"You look at the stats and I think it's unfair to say that's his game, but Darnell can play better."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024.

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