Avalanche, Oilers put on show in Game 1 of Western Conference Final

Avalanche, Oilers put on show in Game 1 of Western Conference Final

DENVER– If you like goals, it was a great one. On the other hand, listen to The Great One.

“You’ve got to play defense, man,” Wayne Gretzky, the leading scorer in NHL history, said on TNT during the second intermission of Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday.

How crazy was the Colorado Avalanche’s 8-6 win against the Edmonton Oilers?

The teams combined to score 14 goals, and four goalies saw ice time with the Oilers pulling starter mike smith and the Avalanche losing Darcy Kuemper because of an upper-body injury. There were beautiful plays, ugly breakdowns and lucky bounces, and there was a key controversial call.

Edmonton took a 1-0 lead. Colorado had leads of 2-1, 4-2 and 7-3. Then Edmonton cut it to 7-6 — you know, your typical, one-goal game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — before Colorado iced it with an empty-net goal.

It tied for the second-highest scoring game in this round or later in playoff history. The Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens scored 15 goals in an 8-7 Chicago win in Game 5 of the 1973 Stanley Cup Final. Gretzky’s Oilers and the Blackhawks scored 15 in a 10-5 Edmonton win in Game 5 of the 1985 Campbell Conference Final and 14 in an 8-6 Chicago win in Game 4 of the same series.

The Avalanche tied their record for goals in a playoff game. They defeated the Florida Panthers 8-1 in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, and the San Jose Sharks 8-2 in Game 2 of the 2002 conference semifinals.

“A lot of work to do,” said Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon, who had a goal and an assist. “I think we would prefer to not have an 8-6 game. We’re up 7-3. We’ve got to find a way to get the momentum back a little bit as they push. But that’s playoff hockey. There’s so many momentum swings.”

The Oilers obviously weren’t pleased, either.

“Just not good enough, all over,” said Oilers center Connor McDavid, who had a goal and two assists. “A lot of stuff that we can clean up. A lot of stuff that was self-inflicted. They’re a real good team. You give them chances, they’re going to bear down and score. We’ve got to defend .”

[RELATED: Complete Avalanche vs. Oilers series coverage]

It was the wild, Wild West. It was the kind of game where the public address announcer hasn’t finished with one goal before another is scored. Evander Kane made it 1-0 for the Oilers at 5:04 of the first period, but J.T. Compher responded for the Avalanche 36 seconds later. Zach Hyman then tied the game 2-2 at 19:37 of the first before Hold Makar gave the Avalanche at 3-2 lead nine seconds later.

The last time teams traded goals within 40 seconds twice in the same game in the conference final was, you guessed it, when Gretzky’s Oilers played the Black Hawks in 1985. Edmonton’s Glenn Anderson and Chicago’s Bob Murray scored 13 seconds apart in the first period, and Chicago’s Behn Wilson and Edmonton’s Jari Kurri scored 21 seconds apart in the third.

The Oilers challenged that Makar’s goal was offside, but the NHL upheld the call after a video review. Edmonton received a penalty for delay of game, and Nazem Kadri cashed in on the power play to give Colorado a 4-2 lead 32 seconds to the second period.

By 6:20 of the second, Colorado’s lead had extended to 6-3, and Smith was replaced by Mikko Koskinen. Kuemper then headed to the locker room 59 seconds later. Can you imagine being Koskinen or Pavel Francouzcoming into a game like that cold?

“I didn’t feel cold for, like, five seconds,” Francouz said with a laugh. “I was warm pretty quickly. That wasn’t an issue. We all know what kind of players are on these two teams. We didn’t plan to play such a game, but we take this win, for sure, and we move forward.”

Goaltending will be a big question entering Game 2 here Thursday (8 pm ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS). Do the Oilers stick with Smith? Is Kuemper able to play? Each backup had good stretches in Game 1, and at one point, with Colorado ahead 7-4, Francouz made a spectacular save, resulting in the crowd chanting, “Frank-ie! Frank-ie!”

But whoever is in net for Game 2, each team needs to tighten up, especially in a series with so much offensive firepower on both sides. You know it when none other than Gretzky, who racked up 2,857 points (894 goals, 1,963 assists) in the regular season, 382 points (122 goals, 260 assists) in the playoffs and won the Cup four times, reminds a national TV audience that defense wins championships.

“I think as a group we can be better defensively,” said Makar, who had a goal and two assists. “I mean, it’s obviously tough when the game opens up, but at the end of the day, we learn from this, and then we move on to Game 2. Yeah, definitely not the way you want to play games with these guys. “


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