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Oilers short on toughness in season-ending loss to Blackhawks

EDMONTON — Dave Tippett sat behind the microphone for six minutes and 30 seconds, talking like a coach who is building something here. Who still has faith in his club.

Then, the money quote arrived:

“Our team competed hard. We’ve got lots of try,” he began. “But … what we think is competing hard isn’t hard enough to win in the playoffs.”

The Edmonton Oilers lost 3-2 on Friday, dropping their Qualifying Round series three games to one to the Chicago Blackhawks, a 12th place team that held a fire sale at the trade deadline.

In a series that was a virtual no-hitter, the Oilers were exposed as a soft team with a limited battle level. They were soft, soft, soft, leaning on skill and power play prowess while the Blackhawks beat them with will and goals from the hard, dirty areas.

If this was basketball, having two of the brightest stars in the game might have gotten them through to Round 1. But alas, it’s hockey, and you have to push people around sometimes.

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“We all thought we had more to give,” defenceman Darnell Nurse said. “We didn’t bring what was necessary to win. (Chicago) is a good, veteran team with a lot of guys … who have played important roles on teams that have won Cups. We didn’t bring enough to match it.”

Against a very light Blackhawks lineup, Edmonton was exposed as all skill, no grit.

They played December hockey in August — soft hockey at a time when the game gets hard — and the results were predictable. You’d have thought they could dig out a win in Game 4, with their backs to the wall.

But it wasn’t there, and technically, the Oilers miss the playoffs for the 13th time in the past 14 years — despite having the two top scorers in the game this season.

“The most intensity we had was in the exhibition game when we played Calgary,” lamented Nurse, who should be at the core of any physical exertion by his team. “I’ve got to find a way to bring more of that, and help other guys bring it out.”

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The game-winning goal was a metaphor for the entire series, as Jonathan Toews won a battle over Ethan Bear and fed a wide open Dominik Kubalik, who scored from six feet out.

“Those are battles that were lost,” admitted Leon Draisaitl, who had six points in the series but was shut out in Game 4. “You have to tie up or win the battle — which we clearly didn’t do. Little mistakes that cost us the game again.

“Little mistakes (that) we had way too many of. Mistakes that can’t happen this time of year. We never really got our A-game going.”

With half of the hockey world gathered here in Edmonton, the Oilers won but a single game of this No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup, outbattled by Chicago as the Blackhawks showed superior gamesmanship and playoff experience.

The best player in the series wasn’t a 23-year-old Connor McDavid, or a 24-year-old Draisaitl. It was the 32-year-old Toews, who gave a clinic in playoff-level intensity.

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And the goaltending matchup that was supposed to favour Edmonton? Corey Crawford cagily won that battle too, despite a pedestrian .891 save percentage and 3.75 goals against. (How do you lose a series to a goalie posting those stats? Good question.)

Crawford made several huge saves late in Game 4, while Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen stopped everything you’d expect him to stop, but almost nothing you would not.

Tippett didn’t like his goaltending, and you can’t blame him.

“When you do make mistakes,” he said, “it would be nice to get a couple of extra stops there.

“Tonight you can’t tell me that they outbattled us,” Tippett added. “We had way more opportunities than them. But we made some critical mistakes … and it went in the back of our net.”

Now, after a week of hockey, summer begins again for Oilers fans. And they will do what they’ve done for far too long now:

Watch Monday’s draft lottery in hopes of landing phenom Alexis Lafreniere.

Maybe a first overall pick is what they require to figure out how to bring the real playoffs here to Edmonton.

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