The Oilers put up a fierce struggle but were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Avalanche on Monday night.
Colorado rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the third period and won 6-5 in overtime on a goal by Artturi Lehkonen to finish a four-game sweep in the Western Conference final at Rogers Place.
The Avalanche will meet the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning in the Cup final. It will be Colorado’s first appearance in the championship round since it won in 2001.
The Oilers put together their best season in 16 years – but were left disappointed and downcast at the end.
“There is no participation medal,” Mike Smith, the Edmonton goalie, said. He stopped 36 shots but could not make the big saves his team needed. “It is very disappointing. It is hard to get to this point.
“We lost and didn’t reach our ultimate goal. That is the feeling now.”
The Oilers led 4-2 in the third period, coughed up the lead and then tied it late at 5-5 to force overtime. Lehkonen scored just 1:19 into the extra period to complete Colorado’s eighth come-from-behind win during the postseason.
“Our ultimate goal was to win the Stanley Cup so this hurts,” Darnell Nurse, Edmonton’s top defenceman, said. He persevered throughout the playoffs despite having a torn muscle in his hip. “It’s a long road just to get back to the playoffs next year.
“It stinks that we didn’t get the job done that we hoped to.”
The loss spoiled an epic performance by Connor McDavid, who had a goal and two assists to boost his league-leading total to 33 points in the playoffs. Teammate Leon Draisaitl had three assists to finish with 31. Both in 16 games.
“I like that we showed no quit out there,” McDavid said quietly afterward. Outside on the street, fans watching post-game interviews through windows, chanted “MVP.”
“Our goal is to win a Stanley Cup,” Draisaitl said. He was hampered by an ankle injury in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. “If you don’t get there and get a crack at it, you are disappointed.”
Edmonton has had several seasons in one: It was the NHL’s top team early on, suddenly turned into its worst, and then peaked at the right time to make a lengthy run.
“I’m proud of our group,” Draisaitl said. “I don’t think anyone expected us to be here but we did it.
“But this feeling sucks right now.”
Colorado went ahead just 3 minutes 46 seconds into the game on a power-play goal by its magnificent young defenceman Cale Makar.
The Oilers evened things up in the second on Zach Hyman’s 10th goal of the playoffs, took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and went to the dressing room for the second intermission up 3-1 after a blistering shot by McDavid.
That’s when things got really screwy.
The Avalanche climbed back to within 3-2 on a goal by Devon Toews, only to see Hyman score a second time to restore the two-goal lead.
Goals by Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon tied it 4-4 and then Mikko Rantanen put Colorado ahead with 5:13 left in the third period.
The lead would last for just over two minutes before Zack Kassian won a net-front battle to lock things up again, this time at 5-5.
The overtime was painfully short for the home team. The Avalanche mobbed Lehkonen on the ice after he scored the game winner.
Pavel Francouz of Colorado had 30 saves for Colorado and is now 6-0 in the playoffs. He is playing in relief of Darcy Kuemper, who was injured in Game 1.
The Oilers came into the night down 3-0 but that was not the number that defined their predicament.
That one was 198-4. It is how many times a team with a 3-0 advantage has gone on to win a best-of-seven series. Another was 44-0. That is the number of times the team ahead 3-0 has won in the Western Conference final.
It pretty much takes a miracle, but that is what Edmonton hoped for on Monday.
“You don’t play four games in a row,” Tyson Barrie, the Edmonton defenceman, reasoned in the morning. Hope springs eternal in the minds of hockey players. “You play one at a time so for us it is just a simple fact of what we have done all year.
“We know what we are up against. If you look at statistics, it’s bleak. People can roll their eyes all they want, but the only way to do it is one at a time.”
The Oilers were beaten every which way in the first three encounters with Colorado. The Avalanche outscored them 16-8 and had allowed just two goals in each of the two previous games.
The Avalanche entered the early evening contest 11-2 during the postseason and at 6-0 was the only team undefeated on the road. This all painted an undeniably grim picture for the Oilers.
Edmonton played a nice first period. It played evenly against the Avalanche other than an early goal by Makar. The Oilers failed to score on two power plays of their own. Smith was sharp, stopping 14 overall and two especially dangerous short-handed chances.
Edmonton was without Evander Kane, who has 13 goals in the postseason but was suspended for a hit from behind on Saturday against Nazem Kadri. Kadri suffered a serious hand injury and is unlikely to return even for the Stanley Cup final.
On the other side, Draisaitl has been on the receiving end of a number of nasty slashes.
“I don’t think anything is ever taken personally,” Draisaitl said earlier in the day. “Both teams want to make it to the Cup finals and you do whatever it takes. That is the way hockey has always been played. It is a tough game.”
Edmonton survived two elimination games in the first round and one more in the second against Calgary.
But these aren’t the Kings or the Flames that Edmonton tangled with. The Avalanche is the first opponent it has faced that is just as fast, equally talented, has more depth and had the motivation of being within an eyelash of making it to the Cup final.
“We have to play the best game we have all year,” Tyson Barrie said. “There is nothing to lose. We’ll come out with everything we have.”
They did, but it was not enough.