After nearly 11 years, the Stanley Cup playoffs returned to Edmonton on Wednesday night. A raucous sellout crowd rocked Rogers Place, but went home disappointed when the San Jose Sharks beat the Oilers, 3-2, on an overtime goal by Melker Karlsson.
Cam Talbot had 41 saves for Edmonton, which wilted under relentless pressure from the veteran-laden Sharks. The Oilers were outshot 44-19. San Jose had only won once in 24 games when trailing after two periods this season; the Oilers had only lost three in 32 times when leading heading into the third.
It was the first postseason game in Edmonton since June 17, 2006, when the Oilers beat Carolina in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. Their last playoff game before Wednesday night was June 19 of the same year, when they lost to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, 3-1.
The second game in the best-of-seven, first-round series is in Edmonton on Friday night. After that, the next three games, if all three are necessary, will be played in San Jose.
The Oilers won 10 of their last 12 games in the regular season to overtake San Jose and clinch second place and home-ice advantage in the first round. They had beaten the Sharks twice in the final week.
Over the past decade, as the Oilers sat idle at this time of the year, the Sharks had reached postseason nine times, including losing in the Stanley Cup finals to the Penguins last year. San Jose had participated in more than 100 playoff games since Edmonton had played its last, and for 12 Oilers, it was their first foray into the Stanley Cup.
Nevertheless, the home team was sharp early on. Rogers Place erupted when Oscar Klefbom, a defenceman who sat out almost two-thirds of last season after contracting a staph infection, whistled a wrist shot past Martin Jones 6 minutes and 44 seconds into the game.
The din grew louder when Milan Lucic gobbled up a rebound off a shot by Mark Letestu and blasted it past Jones with 2:53 left in the first period. Sensing a blowout, the partisan gathering began taunting Jones, but that was the last time the Oilers were heard from.
San Jose cut Edmonton's lead to 2-1 on a power-play goal by Joel Ward early in the second period. The Oilers had already killed two penalties when Drake Caggiula got flagged for hooking with 14 seconds left in the first period.
After that, the momentum turned, the Sharks dominated, and eventually tied the score at 2 when Paul Martin put in a rebound off a shot by Tomas Hertl with 14:38 remaining in the third. Karlsson's winning goal was a bit of bad luck for Edmonton – he was left open when Benoit Pouliot broke a stick.
In the third period, Caggiula had broken a stick on a breakaway that could have given the Oilers a late lead.
Connor McDavid, the Oilers' 20-year-old captain and NHL regular-season scoring leader with 100 points, had an assist on Lucic's goal. McDavid had ended the season on a 14-game scoring streak.
Lucic, who had scored three straight goals when the Oilers beat San Jose in California last week, also had an assist. He entered the series having played 101 playoff games – more than any other Edmonton player.
Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had assists on Karlsson's goal 3 minutes 22 seconds into overtime. Vlasic also assisted on Ward' second-period goal.
It was a sad ending on a thrilling night for Edmonton's playoff-starved fans. They started chanting "Let's Go Oilers" more than a half-hour before the game, and ambled along the concourses with their faces painted, wearing orange hard hats, orange wigs, and with Stanley Cups they had fashioned at home taped to their heads.
The building erupted when the Oilers took the ice, the cheers became deafening when McDavid was introduced.
"MVP, MVP, MVP," 18,000 fans, a sea of orange, shouted in unison.
They gave a standing ovation to Dwayne Rolloson, the goalie that took the Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, when he was shown seated in the arena. They were ready to celebrate, and for a while, the fans did. The Oilers had won their last nine games at home, and nobody suspected that wouldn't continue on Wednesday night.
One fellow in the crowd stood gripping a sign. "The Wait Is Over," it said.
In Edmonton, however, the wait for a playoff victory continues.