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Oilers dominate Flames in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead

Calgary Sun logo Calgary Sun 2022-05-23 Wes Gilbertson
Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) dives for a puck during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. © Provided by Calgary Sun Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) dives for a puck during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton.

EDMONTON — How do you stop the best player in the world? Or can you?

That was always the question back in the Battle of Alberta glory days, when Wayne Gretzky several times spoiled the Calgary Flames’ plans for an extended playoff run.

That’s the issue again with Connor McDavid.

History seems to be repeating itself … except in high-def.

McDavid made history Sunday, piling up three more points as the Edmonton Oilers rolled to a 4-1 victory in Game 3 of this second-round showdown at Rogers Place. The Oilers now own a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven set.

“We let one guy dominate the game,” groaned Flames top-pairing defenceman Rasmus Andersson.

 Edmonton Oilers Kailer Yamamoto (56) battles fore the puck with Calgary Flames Rasmus Andersson (4) during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia © Greg Southam Edmonton Oilers Kailer Yamamoto (56) battles fore the puck with Calgary Flames Rasmus Andersson (4) during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia

As first-line forward Matthew Tkachuk clarified: “We’ve let one guy beat us a few nights now. Back to the drawing board and figure out a way to stop him next game.”

That’s a tough task.

McDavid has nine multi-point performances in 10 games so far in this playoff push.

The last NHLer to achieve that feat during the Stanley Cup tournament?

Nobody.

Not even Gretzky.

This is a first.

After leading his squad past the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, the Oilers’ current captain and superstar centre has nine points so far in this long-awaited playoff edition of the Battle of Alberta. Heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 (7:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), the Flames will again be brainstorming ways to limit his ice, limit his effectiveness.

Maybe they could ask the league to declare that spin-move illegal? After all, it hardly seems fair.

While No. 97 has always been a handful for the arch-rival Flames, the 25-year-old has seemingly found another level as he now causes springtime nightmares for the entire southern half of the province.

 Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid (97) battles with Calgary Flames Noah Hanifin (55) in front of goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid (97) battles with Calgary Flames Noah Hanifin (55) in front of goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) during first period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton.

“They have one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now,” Tkachuk said. “We have to find a way to stop that.”

“I just honestly think we’re not executing (the plan) right now,” Andersson added. “All five guys that are on the ice, we have to do a better job. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. We have to do a better job on him. The first three games here, we’ve been letting him dominate, and that’s why they’re up 2-1.”

The Flames, if you’re looking for good news, rallied from the same deficit in their last series.

The Dallas Stars, however, didn’t have a McDavid.

Or a Leon Draisaitl. He had four assists Sunday, all in a lopsided second period.

Evander Kane, who must be loving life alongside Connor and Leon on the Oilers’ top line, finished a natural hat-trick in a six-minute span in that middle frame, while Zach Hyman continued his own lamp-lighting spree.

 Edmonton Oilers Evander Kane (91) celebrates his first goal with teamates Connor McDavid (97) and Cody Ceci (5) against the Calgary Flames during second period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia © Greg Southam Edmonton Oilers Evander Kane (91) celebrates his first goal with teamates Connor McDavid (97) and Cody Ceci (5) against the Calgary Flames during second period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia

Oliver Kylington was the lone marksman for the Flames, spoiling Mike Smith’s shutout bid — it wouldn’t have been an official goose egg, but we would have counted it — with a top-shelf shot in the late stages.

“They have home-ice advantage right now. We have to win one game here to get it back,” Tkachuk said. “We could’ve lost 10-0 tonight. We could’ve lost 1-0 in overtime. It’s the same result. We were in this position last series. It’s not that hard of a recipe to figure out — we just have to win one game and get the series tied and go back home.”

Sunday’s score would have looked worse for the Flames if netminder Jacob Markstrom hadn’t racked up 21 saves in the visiting crease during the opening stanza.

Things went sideways in the second. Less than a minute in, McDavid raced wide and spied Draisaitl in the slot. He made a terrific touch pass to Hyman, who sizzled a shot just inside the post on the blocker-side for his fourth goal of the series.

Mistakes are magnified in the playoffs and it was a missed connection between Blake Coleman and Kylington, the intended recipient of his drop-pass just inside the offensive zone, that led to Edmonton’s second of the evening. Kane grabbed that giveaway and headed the other direction, sending the puck to Draisaitl and beelining to the net, where he ultimately put away a superb setup.

 Members of the Calgary Flames watch as the fans throw hats on the ice after Edmonton Oilers Evander Kane (91) scored his third goal of the game for a hat trick during second period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia © Greg Southam Members of the Calgary Flames watch as the fans throw hats on the ice after Edmonton Oilers Evander Kane (91) scored his third goal of the game for a hat trick during second period NHL second round playoff hockey action on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia

Kane scored almost an identical twin on his next shift, except that it was McDavid — having just turned Noah Hanifin inside out — doing the dishing. Those two connected again as Kane capped his three-goal flurry with a dandy deke to his backhand.

Markstrom, despite that fantastic first period, was pulled for the third. He exited with 30 saves, with Dan Vladar entering in relief.

“We all know that we weren’t good enough in front of him,” Andersson said. “We left him out to dry. How many odd-man rushes did they have today, especially in the second period? And they capitalized. It just wasn’t good enough, and it cost us.”

LOOCH TOSSED 

Edmonton’s backup netminder, Mikko Koskinen, also made a brief appearance Sunday.

Smith was handling the puck behind his net in the third when he was crunched by Flames fourth-liner Milan Lucic, who did slow his momentum but still followed through with a hit on the greybeard goalie.

Lucic was assessed five-minute major and game misconduct, while Smith was pulled by the concussion spotters.

“They called it charging, correct?” said Flames coach Darryl Sutter in his post-game presser. “Could you imagine if Looch did charge, what would have happened there? He actually tried to slow it down a little bit, I think. It is what it is. It was the score and who it was. That’s what they called.”

Smith ultimately missed about four minutes while being checked by the medical staff. The crowd roared when he returned to the ice.

“I don’t really know what happened, to be honest,” Smith said of that bump by Lucic. “I was out playing the puck and then all of a sudden, I am getting buried into the boards. There aren’t that many goalies in the league and when you are getting run through the end-wall and you are not expecting it, it is not an ideal situation.

“It’s the playoffs and they are trying to rattle you, but the refs handled it and you move on.”

AROUND THE BOARDS 

McDavid leads the playoff scoring race with 23 points, while Draisaitl is next at 19. Nobody else has more than 15 … Sutter shuffled his defence pairs for Game 3, trying Kylington alongside Erik Gudbranson and partnering Nikita Zadorov with Michael Stone. The coach would have loved to scribble Chris Tanev’s name on his lineup card, but he missed a fourth straight due to an undisclosed injury … Overheard at a Tim Hortons not far from the rink — “He was always McJesus, but now he’s playing like God.” Good line … Kane on McDavid, who has also been credited with a dozen hits in this series: “He has been on fire in the playoffs and has taken his game to the next level. He’s not just doing it on the scoresheet. That’s what is allowing him to really showcase his skill. He is physical. He is involved. He is winning puck battles along the wall, both in the defensive and offensive zones. He is a dominant force out there” … Kane, by the way, became the fourth player in Oilers’ franchise history with multiple hat-tricks in one playoff run. Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier are the others on this legendary list.

OFF THE GLASS 

Selke Trophy finalist Elias Lindholm finished with a minus-3 rating in Sunday’s loss … Johnny Gaudreau’s seven-game point streak was halted … Sutter’s post-game assessment? “I think we had a lot of our younger guys that haven’t been in this situation before were a little bit intimidated by the atmosphere,” he said … Among the Edmonton heroes in the crowd for Game 3 — soccer superstar Alphonso Davies and courageous kid Ben Stelter … You can rule out a summer reunion between the Flames and longtime captain Mark Giordano. The Toronto-raised rearguard re-signed Sunday with the Maple Leafs, foregoing free agency and accepting a hometown discount to continue his career with the cap-strapped squad. Giordano inked a two-year deal — that will take him into his 40s — with an average annual value of US$800,000.

wgilbertson@postmedia.com 

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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