ANAHEIM – Weeks of winning that the Ducks carried into the postseason started to trigger feelings that a long Stanley Cup playoff run might be in their future. Two goals that largely silenced a sellout Honda Center crowd showed that they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.
If the Edmonton Oilers didn’t already serve notice that they were ready for prime time with their first-round win over San Jose, they were making themselves heard with goals by Mark Letestu and Adam Larsson just 100 seconds apart for a two-goal lead early in the third period.
And then when the Ducks stunned them with a quick comeback, Larsson came through again as his goal with 4:40 left in regulation Wednesday night ultimately lifted the Oilers to a 5-3 Game 1 victory in an opener of a Western Conference semifinal that created hope for a classic best-of-7 series.
Patrick Eaves and Jakob Silfverberg answered those twin Oilers strikes with bolts of their own only 83 seconds apart to forge a 3-3 tie, showing that the Ducks have plenty of resolve with their tanks. But so do the Oilers, who got a clinching insurance empty-net score from Leon Draisaitl.
Letestu scored the second of his two power-play goals on a rebound off the right skate of lunging Ducks goalie John Gibson for a 2-1 lead. Larsson then got to skate in on the retreating Ducks and fire in a shot off a set up from Draisaitl for an imposing two-goal advantage.
But the Ducks didn’t wallow in their predicament. Ryan Getzlaf won a faceoff back to Brandon Montour and the rookie defensemen fired a shot toward Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot. Eaves jumped on the rebound and chipped it in.
And then the Ducks tied it again when Silfverberg tapped in another rebound out of the air. It appeared they would at least carry the momentum into overtime, if not have a chance of stealing Game 1 in regulation.
Larsson crushed those dreams. The Oilers defenseman got around the Ducks’ Cam Fowler and managed to wrap around a shot around him that Gibson couldn’t handle and then stop as the puck bounced in off Josh Manson.
It was a tight game all the way through, with the first two periods settled nothing. All it revealed is that this matchup is an even one. And it shouldn’t be surprising, given that two points separated the first-place Ducks from the second-place Oilers during the regular season.
An entertaining opening 20 minutes showed that the Ducks weren’t suffering from any layoff and Gibson being sharp in goal. Their focus on the details was there as they had a 12-4 advantage in the faceoff circle, an area where they feel a distinct advantage could be had.
But the Oilers were able to test Gibson. A strong redirect try by Zack Kassian from the slot area was turned away as the Ducks’ goalie made the first of two shoulder saves among the nine stops he had to make.
The Ducks also killed off two penalties, one with the help of Draisaitl taking a slashing minor 36 seconds into Ryan Kesler serving two minutes for tripping….