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Oilers look for Game 2 rally against Golden Knights

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Alec Martinez Vegas Golden Knights Connor McDavid Alec Martinez - The Canadian Press

LAS VEGAS — The Edmonton Oilers aim to tame the multi-headed monster that is the Vegas Golden Knights after dropping a series-opener for a second time in this year's playoffs.

A 6-4 loss to the Knights in Game 1 has the Oilers looking to take a split home from Saturday's Game 2 in Las Vegas.

Game 3 is Monday in Edmonton.

Vegas poses different challenges for Edmonton than the Los Angeles Kings did in the first round.

The Knights' aggressive forecheck and quick transitions make it harder for the Oilers to move up ice.

"L.A. is a pretty unique team, the way that they play. In their neutral zone, they don't pressure a lot," Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Thursday. "These guys, they're always coming at you. You've got to be able to adjust to it right away. Come Saturday, we'll be ready for that."

Vegas is also capable of matching the Oilers' pace when Edmonton's offence kicks into high gear.

"We're quite aware that we were the top team down the stretch, since I think the beginning of March or middle of March," Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said.

"We're also aware that the second-hottest team down the stretch is the team we're playing. They have certain attributes, and one of those attributes is that they can score."

Edmonton has lost the first game of seven straight playoff series. The Oilers' last Game 1 victory was to start the 2017 second round against the Anaheim Ducks.

"Throughout my career, I think I've played in eight or nine series and I think we've won one Game 1," Nugent-Hopkins said. "The way we respond on Saturday is obviously important and I think that we're going to bring our best game."

While the Oilers' power play continues to be the class of the post-season with a conversion rate at almost 58 per cent, the Knights had an answer for it in Game 1.

Vegas negated Leon Draisaitl's two power-play goals when Ivan Barbashev scored even-strength 40 and 66 seconds after them.

"It's important that when you when you score big goals — whether that's the first goal of the game, or you're tied up in the third period — you want to make sure that next shift is a good one," Woodcroft said. "One that you spend in the other team's zone."

And while the Knights couldn't contain Draisaitl in his four-goal performance, Vegas compensated in other areas and was otherwise effective in limiting the NHL's highest-scoring attack.

The Knights were the league's least penalized team in the regular season, so the Oilers may get few chances to feast on their power play in this series.

"We feel if we can keep it to a five-on-five game, it sure increases our chances," Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Game 1.

"They will play with pace. We know that. We're a good-skating team. That's why it will be a fast series and when things happen fast, goals go in the net too.

"You might see the score slowly go down as teams tighten up in the series."

Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, who is a finalist for this year's Calder Trophy rookie award, steadied as Game 1 progressed.

He made an important stop on a Vegas odd-man rush in the second period and thwarted Jonathan Marchessault from close range in the third during a 28-save outing.

"I thought I made some good saves a key moments," Skinner said. "I definitely got better, but I always got better."

Draisaitl's 11 goals and four assists in seven playoff games is Conn Smythe Trophy pace.

NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid has a single even-strength goal in the post-season, but he's created high-danger chances for himself and set up goals with nine assists.

The third man in the Oilers 100-point club this season is Nugent-Hopkins, who has four assists and has yet to score a playoff goal.

"You want to be able to produce and be an effective player in whatever aspect of the game you can be when it comes to playoffs," Nugent-Hopkins said.

"I've got to shoot the puck a little bit more and try to create a little bit more personally. At the same time, when things are slowing down offensively, you've got to be able to take care of things on the defensive side.

"You definitely have to be able to touch different parts of the game and be an effective player one way or the other."

Woodcroft didn't have an update Thursday on the status of forward Mattias Janmark, who fell backwards into the boards in the first period of Game 1.

It was Janmark's first game back after taking a puck off the foot in the series-opener against L.A. Also minus Derek Ryan because of illness, Edmonton played 10 forwards Wednesday against the Knights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.