Oilers mentally making ready for playoffs as common season winds down

EDMONTON — House and cooled in second place within the North, and having now hammered dwelling the ultimate nail within the Calgary Flames coffin, the Edmonton Oilers are nearly carried out with this common season.

If the playoffs may begin on Monday, they’d be all in.

“Realizing we will beat any group within the North, and in the event you do this something can occur,” started the Renaissance Man, Mike Smith, a 39-year-old goalie who may simply discover his identify on the Vezina poll this season.

Smith had one other stellar night, keeping off a spunky Calgary membership in a 4-1 win (two empty-net objectives). He made 29 saves to up his saves share to .924 with a 2.30 goals-against common, then spoke in regards to the closing two weeks of a season that can embody 5 of their remaining seven video games towards the drained and troubled Vancouver Canucks.

“These video games are mentally powerful. You see the standings, and also you need home-ice benefit, however mentally you sort of simply wish to get via these video games … and let the true video games start,” Smith mentioned. “There’s a sense within the locker room the place we wish to be enjoying nicely going into a very powerful video games, however we’re chomping on the bit to get into these video games.”

Actually, there are solely two questions left on the Edmonton Oilers menu within the 2020-21 common season:

Can Connor McDavid notch 13 factors within the closing seven video games to succeed in 100 factors in a 56-game season? (He had 1-2-3 Saturday, the fourth time in his final 5 video games he’s had at the very least three factors).

And, who will their playoff opponent be? Winnipeg, because it has appeared for weeks? Or Montreal, who’re respiratory down the necks of the struggling Jets?

On the primary query, McDavid is a dud. He’s all in regards to the group, this famous person, whose three-point evening towards the Flames gave McDavid 556 factors in his first 400 video games, two greater than Sidney Crosby had in his first 400.

“It’s been a fairly wild begin to a profession,” McDavid mentioned. “Simply one other step within the street.”

Calgary saved McDavid off the rating sheet on Thursday. On Saturday he had a objective and a major help earlier than the sport was eight minutes previous.

“When he will get shut down one sport, the subsequent sport he’s that a lot hungrier to assist the group,” Smith marveled. “Everybody is aware of how unbelievable he’s out on the ice, however I’ve seen a younger man develop into a pacesetter of this hockey membership. Spectacular to look at a younger man like that take this group on his shoulders. To do what he’s carried out this yr, it’s an unbelievable feat.”

As for the second query, if you may get knowledgeable hockey participant to publicly state his choice of a playoff opponent, you’re a finer hockey author than I. On this group, as with most, it’s about how they’re enjoying, not who they’re enjoying.

This Oilers group is now 27-11-2 since their 3-6 begin to the season. On their third sport in 4 nights, they almost rescued some extent or two earlier than shedding Thursday. Two nights later a rested Oilers group weathered every part Calgary may throw at them — enjoying loads of defensive minutes — however surrendered only a single objective.

That could be a signal of a very good group.

“Within the playoffs you possibly can’t lose two in a row. You’ve received to bounce again,” McDavid mentioned. “Studying to play when it’s not likely going your approach is a giant a part of successful. Like tonight: we began nice, and within the second interval they sort of took over. Once we do surrender possibilities, Smitty and Kosky have been nice again there.”

In a Battle of Alberta the place Matthew Tkachuk has but to look Darnell Nurse within the eye, McDavid gave Milan Lucic a poke within the chops after the 2 had some contact.

“He tried to complete on me within the impartial zone, and we had been each skating again to the bench and I gave him a bit bump. He says it was up excessive. I didn’t suppose so,” McDavid shrugged. “I’m not making an attempt to fire up the massive man. I don’t have a loss of life want.”

That stuff is incidental.

What issues now could be how a group that has put collectively three months of .700 hockey performs when the chips are down. As a result of as we recall, the final time it didn’t go so nicely.

“We had been enjoying a few of our greatest hockey earlier than the pause, and you then go right into a bubble scenario the place … personally I used to be not mentally prepared for that,” mentioned Smith, whose Oilers misplaced in 4 video games to Chicago within the Qualifying Spherical.

“We’ve come a great distance mentally,” he continued. “Discovering other ways to win, whether or not it was being up, coming again, holding leads… Simply loads of maturity, not simply on the ice however off as nicely. How guys are dealing with themselves. What guys are speaking about. It’s group first, and I’ve seen loads of these sorts of issues that perhaps we didn’t have previously.

“Guys are simply actually enthusiastic about enjoying vital video games.”

Solely seven to go, and 5 towards the Canucks.

This might drag on.

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