Oilers let Game 1 slip through fingers, but emotions got away first

Their penalty killers got exhausted. Edmonton was outshot, 37-9, after the first period, and 44-19 overall.“We looked like a team on our toes early on, and like a team on our heels later,” said Todd McLellan, the Oilers coach. “The crowd helped. San Jose’s players have more than 1,000 games of playoff experience combined. I think maybe guys were trying to do a little too much.” I think emotions got the best of us.”Fuelled by excitement, the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and then got schooled by the older, more experienced Sharks. It was unbelievable out there.”Pro athletes are so well trained and so elite that it is rare to see them undone by raw emotion. The Sharks repeatedly trapped the Oilers in their own end. Then in the second period, they took over.“Definitely, in order to win, we have to stay out of the penalty box. Edmonton’s downtown arena turned into an ocean of insanity. By comparison, the Oilers have only a fraction. McLellan was louder than usual, and did more hands-on coaching. Eight months of improvements seemed to unravel on Wednesday night. “Hopefully, we will be better at channelling our emotions.“We’ve been through some adversity this season and we’ve always bounced back well. “The Sharks are a savvy, veteran team, and they were able to grab hold of the game and we weren’t able to grab it back.“That is a lesson learned on our behalf. “During warmups, I took two or three good laps around the ice and had to tell myself to slow down. That may be a foreshadowing of bad things to befall the Oilers. That was a pretty poor game on our part.”In the first period on Wednesday, energy and excitement created an illusion that was shattered as the game went on. That’s what happens in the Stanley Cup.“I think as a team we played well in the beginning,” said Zack Kassian, Edmonton’s big forward. Only 41 saves by Cam Talbot kept Edmonton from receiving a major thumping.“I think you could argue that coming off that high in the first period led us to not being as sharp as we needed to be for the rest of the game,” said Eric Gryba, the Oilers’ brawny defenceman. They are a young team and were nervous on Wednesday night, the Great One said.The Oilers recognize that.“We are going to play a much better game on Friday night,” Letestu said in the dressing room afterward. A thousand more jammed into a beer garden in the entrance hall and watched their first-round game with San Jose on television. Only more steely nerves and a much better effort will keep the Oilers from falling into a scary 2-0 hole.They beat the Sharks the final three times they played in the regular season, finished ahead of them in the Pacific Division and had won nine consecutive games at home.Suddenly, all of that meant nothing. We will be better next time.”The teams meet in Game 2 in Edmonton on Friday night, before continuing the series in San Jose on Sunday. He talked to his players about game management, momentum and discipline, all of which went to hell over the last 43 minutes in the series opener. For a moment, at least, they seem human, after all.The Oilers let victory slip through their fingers in the opening game of their Stanley Cup playoff series, but their emotions got away from them first.Suddenly, they started taking dumb penalties, which contributed to a sea change in momentum and ultimately, to them frittering away the lead. Common sense says they will put up more of a fight.Their one-hour practice session at Rogers Place on Thursday took on a more serious tone. Or, it could be a momentary slip caused by the emotion of the moment. They are so robotic during interviews that it is rarer still to hear them talk about such a common failing. Until Wednesday night, they hadn’t played a game that mattered at this time of year since 2006.The 46 victories this season was their most since 1986-87. To pretend to know is folly.The Sharks lost 10 of their past 14 games but have shown they will not be an easy mark. “You could feel the passion in the building, and there is no way you can’t be affected.“There were a bunch of orange maniacs in the stands. So many people wanted to experience the Oilers’ first stab at the playoffs in more than a decade that the team sold $80 passes on Wednesday night allowing fans to wander the concourses at Rogers Place without benefit of a seat. “There is no doubt we fed off that energy,” Mark Letestu, the Oilers’ 32-year-old centre, said Thursday. San Jose won, 3-2, in overtime. At one point, the team gathered around him on the ice as he scribbled on a blackboard.Wayne Gretzky, an executive with the Oilers Entertainment Group, watched from the stands. My heart rate was soaring.“It was a good experience for everybody, but there is a bit of a lesson there. The clamour started before the puck dropped and rose to ear-splitting over three hours. It is not a coincidence that they have reached the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 seasons, and played in the Stanley Cup final against the Penguins last year. We know we are a lot better than we showed.