Thirty-one years on from the last postseason meeting between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, the names on the backs of the jerseys may have changed, but the series result, as it has historically done so frequently, has once again gone in favour of the team from Alberta’s capital.
Connor McDavid’s first career overtime playoff goal, scored just 5:03 into the sudden-death period, clinched a 5-4 win for the Oilers on Thursday night, wrapping up a 4-1 series victory that carries Edmonton into the Western Conference final for the first time since 2006.
The Oilers will now await the winner of the Colorado Avalanche-St. Louis Blues series, with the Avalanche up 3-2 heading into Game 6 of that series Friday night.
While this current crop of Oilers is breaking new ground in their evolution in reaching the NHL’s final four, their captain, for so long held up as the poster boy for the team’s dysfunction and inability to live up to the standard of excellence established by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier et al., says this group has broken through the hard way.
“Everybody wants to win,” McDavid said after joining Esa Tikkanen as the only Oiler to score a series-winning overtime goal against the Flames. “I think our group has been through a lot this year and in years past and I think it’s just made us hungrier and hungrier to be successful. And we’ve had to learn a lot of lessons along the way.”
Compared to his earlier games in the series, McDavid had a relatively quiet night at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday. But when a team is fortunate enough to have not one but two Hart Trophy winners on its roster, it can usually find a way to get things done.
So though McDavid saw his seven-game multi-point-game streak come to an end, Leon Draisaitl was there to pick up the slack. In all fairness, the German forward did a little more than that, registering four assists for the second time in the series, and recording his fifth consecutive game in which he scored at least three points.
“He was amazing,” McDavid said of the winger who dished him the puck for the OT winner. “That’s all you can really say. You know, it’s hard to really put into words how amazing he was out there. Every game, you know, every single game he dominated from start to finish and it was fun to watch tonight.”
Draisaitl’s first assist of the night allowed him to reach the 50-playoff-point mark in just his 32nd career postseason game. The German became the fourth-fastest player to the half-century, behind only Wayne Gretzky (23 games), Barry Pederson (28) and Mario Lemieux (29).
His scoring binge also took him to 17 points in the five games it took to oust the Flames, with only Rick Middleton and Gretzky having scored more in a single series. That performance pushed him to 26 points so far this playoff year, tied with a certain gifted linemate for the NHL lead.
Despite his insistence that he’s “run out of words” to describe McDavid’s play this postseason, Draisaitl, who was drafted third overall in 2014, knows equally well the trials and tribulations this talented but raw roster has been through to get to this point.
“We’ve had a lot of down moments, a lot of moments where people were hard on us, saying we can’t win and we haven’t won yet,” he said. “You know we’re only halfway [to a Stanley Cup championship], but it feels good to take that next step. For now, it feels good to see that we have grown as a team and grown as an organization.”
While the Oilers moved to 5-1 in all-time playoff series against their rival to the south, the mood in Calgary was disbelief that the second-best season in franchise history had come to such a jarring conclusion.
Fans at the Saddledome will likely take a long time to digest the overturning of what appeared to be a go-ahead goal from Blake Coleman with 5:57 remaining in regulation. But the replay room in Toronto determined that Coleman had kicked the puck in after Mikael Backlund drove to the net, and like Martin Gelinas’s goal that never was in overtime of Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, it will be added to Calgary’s litany of painful playoff memories.
“I don’t think I understand the rule,” Coleman said after the game. “I was getting pushed and just trying to keep my foot on the ice. I haven’t watched it enough but at live speed I felt like I was in a battle and just my understanding is you can direct the puck but you just can’t kick it.”
For the third time in the series, the Flames jumped out to a multiple-goal lead, but just like in Game 2, they were unable to hold it.
Head coach Darryl Sutter was equally befuddled by the league’s definition of distinct kicking motion on the disallowed goal, but chose to praise the Oilers in his own unique way, saying, “The best player won the series for them.”
For a team that now has to deal with the elephant in its dressing room in the shape of 115-point top scorer Johnny Gaudreau and how he will deal with unrestricted free agency this summer, to say nothing of negotiations with second-leading scorer Matthew Tkachuk, who is a restricted free agent, it’s hard to say what next year’s Flames team will look like.
Sutter chose to look at the positives, pointing to the good things the team did.
“The goal was to make the playoffs,” he said. “So [we] make the playoffs and we hadn’t won a round for a long time, so we won a round and ran out of ammo in this series here.”
There was no shortage of ammo in the second period, however, with the two teams combining for seven goals in that period for the second time in the series. The teams set a new NHL mark for fastest four goals in a playoff game, sharing two each over a span of just 1:11.
“It was crazy,” was how Draisaitl described it.
In all, the two teams combined for 45 goals in the five-game series, which was the fifth-highest-scoring five-game series in league history.
But just like the last playoff meeting between the teams in 1991, and the series that took place before it, this 2022 matchup is now consigned to the history books. Edmonton head coach Jay Woodcroft said that while he and his team will savour the moment, they have other challenges to prepare for.
“To do this against your arch-rival and close them out in their building in the fashion that we did, we will enjoy it,” he said. “[Then] we’re going to rest and recuperate. We know that whoever comes out of that other series is going to be a really good opponent for us.”