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Oilers focus on details, aim for more 'O' zone time in Game 2 against Canucks

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Given the result of the first game in their playoff series with the Vancouver Canucks — a loss Wednesday night courtesy a third-period collapse — the Edmonton Oilers say they need to play better next time.

And they believe they will.

The 5-4 loss to the host Canucks came after a week off for the Oilers, who had beaten the Los Angeles Kings in five games the previous round, while they waited to see who they would play next in the National Hockey League playoffs and how the schedule would take shape.

Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said Thursday he felt his club "was a little rusty" in Game 1, which saw Vancouver rally and score four unanswered goals — including three in a span of 4:45 in the final period — for the win.

"Our details weren't what they should have been," Knoblauch told media following afternoon practice.

"A lot of credit to the Vancouver Canucks for playing a good game, but I don't think we played our best. There are things that we needed to be better at. Whether we were too conservative or just lacking details in the second half of the game, but we know to beat this team, we need to be better."

Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said he and his teammates know they "can take another step, raise our level a little bit."

"We gave ourselves a chance to win the game, which is always a good sign," he told media Thursday. "We didn't get the job done, but we know there's another level to get to. We expect the same from the other side, too, so we want to be sharp from the start, like we were last night, and continue to be good."

The Canucks, too, were trying to find their footing early, having eliminated the Nashville Predators in the first round five days earlier.

And they did, of course, getting a boost courtesy forward Elias Lindholm's surprise goal from behind the Oilers' net late in the second period that went in off the paddle of goalie Stuart Skinner's stick.

Canucks defenceman Carson Soucy said the momentum generated by the marker with 2:59 left in the frame was a major factor.

"We were saying there's lots of time to get one, get two," Soucy said Thursday during a post-practice media availability.

"We thought maybe we'd have to pull the goalie and get one, but with the momentum in the crowd, you can see that that momentum in the playoffs is huge."

Canucks came to life late in second

While the Oilers had the jump early, capitalizing on a pair of first-period Canucks gaffes for goals, then adding two more in the second in a 45-second span for a comfortable 4-1 lead, they couldn't sustain it — and Vancouver cranked up the intensity, hemming the Oilers into their zone at the end of the second and for much of the third.

Edmonton managed just eight shots on net over the final 40 minutes, including three in the final 2:09 with Skinner pulled for an extra attacker.

Both Nugent-Hopkins, who recorded two assists in the loss, and defenceman Darnell Nurse said the Oilers will attempt to spend more time in the Canucks zone in Friday's Game 2 at Vancouver's Rogers Arena.

"There were times in (Game 1) when we broke the puck out well, and there were times that we didn't, so for us, we've got to find a way to get down to the 'O' (offensive) zone," Nurse said to reporters.

"(The Canucks are) a good team, a good checking team. They skate well, play hard, and for us, it's just finding ways to manage our way through the 'D' (defensive) zone, neutral zone, and get down to the 'O' zone and play."

In order to do that, Nugent-Hopkins said, the Oilers need to move the puck quickly and establish the forecheck.

"It's pretty simple: We're a good hockey team when we play in the 'O' zone," he said.

"We move the puck well, we take shots from the point and we go get the puck, and we kind of got away from that a little bit in the second half of (Game 1).

"When you're up a couple, it's kind of natural to want to sit back a little bit, but you can't really do that against any team at this point of the season."

The Oilers will face another hurdle Friday with the status of Leon Draisaitl in question.

The star centre — who had two assists Wednesday and sits second in playoff scoring with 12 points, one behind fellow star teammate Connor McDavid — is listed as day-to-day after he missed eight minutes of Game 1 with an apparent equipment issue and cramping. The status of Oilers forward Adam Henrique, who missed Game 1, is also in question for Friday.

Both coaches are counting on their players to move on and focus on the next game, which Canucks bench boss Rick Tocchet calls "huge."

"For me in playoffs, you get back to Earth as soon as possible," Tocchet said.

"You talk about last night, you'd enjoy it for maybe two seconds, then you're back because you know what's ahead, what's coming your way and you've got to be ready for it."

Knoblauch said he believes his team has done "a good job" of responding to losses and keeping skids short.

"A coach has some impact on how the team responds, whether that's responding after a win or after loss, but a lot of things that can be said, the players know," he said.

"They understand. They've been through this. I think it's very important, whether you're winning or whether you're losing, that (you) stay even keel, you respond and bring your best the next day." 

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