Dave Tipppett is paid to be the head coach of the talent-laden Edmonton Oilers. Over the next 48 hours, he needs to channel his inner sports psychologist to help his team rebound from a 6-4 beating by Chicago in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup qualifiers.
Resiliency is the key for Edmonton to bounce back from a loss that left Oilers fans powering down their computers and clicking off their remotes in disgust.
There’s beauty in being able to watch a game remotely from the lake, the cabin, the campground — just about anywhere — unless your team simply fails to show up.
“We talked about being really solid in the first period,” Tippett snarled in his post-game news conference conducted via Zoom. “We gave up two out-numbered breaks in the first two or three minutes. We just didn’t think very well, and we didn’t elevate our game like we needed to.
“We have to regroup and make sure we’re ready for Game 2.”
WATCH | ‘We didn’t elevate our game,’ Tippett says:
The Oilers showed a disturbing lack of resiliency and readiness in the first period Saturday. With Edmonton holding a 1-0 lead, goalie Mike Smith bobbled the puck behind the net.
Chicago’s Dylan Strome scooped up that gift and banged it in off Smith to tie the game 1-1.
Smith is known for his misadventures outside the crease. The Oilers are accustomed to him surrendering bad goals from time to time. But on Saturday, they collapsed and watched Chicago score four more times before Tippett finally pulled Smith at 6:32 of the second period.
Now, it’s easy to blame Tippett for starting the 38-year-old Smith over Mikko Koskinen in the first place.
Gut feelings and hard-earned trust are often the determining factors when hockey coaches make big decisions at playoff time. Tippett coached Smith in Dallas and Phoenix, so there’s familiarity and trust.
“We started the season 5-0, and Smitty started the season,” Tippett said in explaining his choice in goalies. “We wanted to start the post-season the same way. We were very confident.
“Smitty — other than on the one with the giveaway that went off his back — he was kind of left on his own out there.”
Certainly, this loss can’t be pinned on one guy — not with so many defensive gaffes and mental errors with so much on the line.
Chelsea Dagger rings through arena
Maybe it was a sign of inexperience for the Oilers compared to Chicago veterans such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Maybe it was nerves from Edmonton hosting the Stanley Cup tournament.
Maybe it was a matter of the fifth-seeded team thinking 12th-place Chicago would not put up such a fight.
“We definitely didn’t take them lightly,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who collected a goal and two assists. “They’re battle tested. They came out and did exactly what we thought they would do. We just weren’t ready.”
Hands up, anyone who expected Chelsea Dagger — Chicago’s goal song — to play six times Saturday at Rogers Place.
Hands up, anyone who expected rookie winger Dominik Kubalik to figure in on five of those goals, with two markers and three assists.
WATCH | Kubalik breaks Chicago’s rookie playoff points record:
“To say we are disappointed with the way we started would be an understatement,” Tippett said. “We were a way better team in the regular season. You get behind early, you start to cheat, you don’t look like a good team.”
Getting back to work
There’s no time for the Oilers to mourn this loss — not with Game 2 set for Monday night. Sunday will see the team review the game film and conduct a speedy post-mortem.
It’s on Tippett to help his club shake this one off and not allow it to bury their confidence.
“There’s lots that needs to be done,” McDavid said. “We going to get back to work [Sunday,] watch exactly what went wrong and learn from it.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo’s previews Edmonton-Chicago:
History shows that in best-of-five NHL playoff series, teams that win the first game go on to capture the series 82 per cent of the time.
So the Oilers, even with their star power, are now officially the underdogs.
“It’s a best-of-five, Game 1 is important,” McDavid said. “We lost it. Nothing we can do about it now.
“All we can do is focus on Game 2.”