Oilers Playoffs 2006: 9 wins down, 7 to go

For a brief period before Buffalo took down Carolina yesterday, the Edmonton Oilers were in fact the mathematical favourites to win the Stanley Cup -- namely, Lowe and the boys were only 7 wins away from tasting the cup, while the other surviving teams needed 8 more wins. Buffalo now joins that grouping. Meanwhile Anaheim and Carolina are starting to fall behind. Not that such a statement really means anything. Just ask San Jose, who won their first two games against the Oilers. Or Montreal, who stole two from Carolina at home mind you before losing 4 straight. Detroit and Calgary both won their first game at home only to go on and lose the series. Winning Game 1 is nice, but winning Game 3 is critical.

If you doubt the seriousness of this statement, consider this: going into Game 3 a series has three possible permutations, one of which just the flip of the other: think of it like the triplet state where s=1 in quantum mechanics*. Your team can go into Game 3 up by 2 games. You can go into it down by 2 games. Finally, there are two ways that you can go into it tied 1-1. Now the latter case means that Game 3 loses much of its cruciality (is that a word?) [what the hell are you asking me for, what am I his editor or something? -ed] transfers over to Game 4. The first case, winning Game 3 means an absolute chokehold on the series. You may not sweep the series (as a desperate Senators fan might remind you), but you really aren't likely to lose it (as a desperate Yankees fan might remind you). The second case, winning Game 3 means suddenly you're alive and well. Obviously the desperate San Jose fans [all six of them? nah, too easy -ed]can tell you what it means to lose Game 3 after winning the previous two games.

So tonight at 7pm Mountain Time the Oilers again face off in Anaheim to see who is victorious. I have to count myself as one of the determined skeptics I'm afraid. I still don't think this series is going to go in the Oilers favour. I read somewhere online last week a prediction that whoever would win Game 1 of the Clarence Campbell Conference would go on to lose the series, and I don't think that's a particularly untrue statement to make even now. I wanted a lot more goals on Bryzgalov than just 2 (the score was 3-1 but with an empty netter that wasn't as "easy" as Colby Cosh claimed ("easy", "not in earnest", tomayto tomahto). He had a not-great game for the first time this playoffs, true, but he was still extremely solid and a far cry from losing his confidence. Taking apart his game early is the key -- it worked for us against San Jose.

But FACLC, I can hear you say, it took us the better part of four games to kill Toskala's confidence in that last series, and that was enough. Was it? Remember that after Game 5, where Toskala was absolutely brutal (6 goals in 18 shots) he bounced back to a near-all-star-performance in Game 6. Edmonton won that game only because the players playing in front of the net weren't confident of the man they had between the pipes. Had Game 6 not settled the series, I'm sure you'd have found the team playing Game 7 much more confident with a strong goaltending performance to build upon. Taking down Bryzgalov early in the series means that if and/or when he comes back from a couple of bad 5+ goal games (particularly at home) the Oilers already have too strong a lead in the series (and possibly have already won it). Imagine if Game 1 had the Game 3 playbook from last series. Open with a pair of 6-3 routs. In Game 3 of this round Bryzgalov comes back into form (roughly analogous to the game we watched Friday night) but still the Oilers get a couple past him and the Ducks falter. Suddenly it doesn't matter much about his performance in Game 4: even if he's back on his game, the Oilers only need 1 win in 4 games to clinch the series, and have some time to pick him full of holes waiting for Buffalo to hopefully take 7 games against Carolina.

The last point should be re-stated: the Oilers need a rest. Why they had to play on Friday when the two teams out East had already been waiting a week is borderline criminal, all for the sake of the CBC's damned ratings in Toronto-South. Beating Anaheim before the Eastern series is concluded (hopefully with a Carolina win!) is critical.

* The Wikipedia link doesn't really do much justice: scrolling to the green "triplet states" section on this link works a little better. The "quick executive summary" as one of my physics profs (who doesn't seem to be listed at the UofA Physics Department any longer) liked to say is that when the proton and electron each have spin, S(total)=S(proton)+S(electron). But the Sz operator when applied to the (chi1)x(chi2) particle state produces a result equal to hbar*(m1+m2)*chi1*chi2, and that is just the single chi equation with (m1+m2) taking the place of the constant m, so therefore m=m1+m2 for the compositie system. Now if you apply a "lowering operator" to the up-up state you can isolate an s=1 condition to find three states:
|1 1> = up-up
|1 0> = 1/(square root of 2)*(up-down + down-up)
|1 -1> = down-down
This is precisely what I was after in my allusion above: three possible states for your team, but one is really a composite of two results (Oilers win first lose second, Ducks win first lose second).