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Oilers - Bruins Post-Game: Winning in Spite of Ourselves

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It looked like it would all go so well for the Edmonton Oilers. Then it didn't. And in the end it did, but really, is there much credit in that?

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

When I sat down to watch this game it was laden with melancholy. The Boston Bruins, a nearly decent team, were on a four-game losing skid. This would normally be cause for optimism but we are fans of the Edmonton Oilers, the anthropomorphic personifications of slump-busting. Milan Lucic, Greg Campbell, and Brad Marchand were playing, each good for three screams of anguish per sixty. With rumours of Malcolm Subban making his NHL debut, defeat seemed guaranteed. And I personally attract disastrous losses like William Elphinstone. The last time I wrote about an Oilers win was February 24, 2012. A whole lockout ago, though that doesn't mean much in Gary Bettman's NHL.

I was watching the game on the Bruins feed. This is not a thing you should do. The omnipresent news ticker used cryptic phrases like "onside kick goat", which I think was related to the lunar new year. As soon as I got used to the Bahston accents an interviewer with two last names and no identifiable origin would ask one of the Oilers' billion ex-Bs if they were sad they'd been exiled to the cloaca of the hockey universe. They showed highlights of a U-12 shootout competition in an empty arena, the sort of thing a hamfisted satirist would say about Canadian broadcasts. Plus there was Jack Edwards, living proof that New England is purgatory. By the end of the second I was whimpering on my couch in the foetal position making Gene Principe puns in an attempt to stay sane.

Yet it started so well! Tuukka Rask played, and since he's a solid goalie the odds of a classic Stempniaking vanished at once. Good Yak City continued to show up, like a sunny week in Stalingrad: with both Bruins defensemen charging behind the net like coursing hounds high on benzene Yakupov sunned himself in the slot with his shirt off and a bottle of Stoli, pausing only briefly to zip the puck home. Precisely the sort of goal the Oilers usually give up. There was a decent fight, a part of the game I always cherish. Then Teddy Purcell and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined on a powerplay marker and my eyebrows went way up. If Purcell was putting cross-crease passes on a pinhead, what wasn't possible? No less a Norris winner than Justin Schultz was working the man advantage like a real hockey player!

Boston ended the first by blowing the Oilers' penalty kill to pieces like Ryan Whitney in a wind tunnel, but who cares? Purcell pegged Boston back in the second, no big deal, not even the boards at Rexall Place decomposing could ruin this game.

Then it got so nearly ruined.

Let me tell you about Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron is good, you know that, but he's a good player who's spent time in winning environments, without having the players around him dumped for draft picks. Everyone knows that he gets hurt, that he has weaknesses, but the Bruins have stuck with him and blessed him with consistent supporting talent. As a result, despite not being the most talented player in the game, he is a continual danger. He gets every drop from his ability because both he and his teammates know who he is and what it takes for him to produce. This means that when the Bruins inevitably have to work in a new player like Boris Pasternak (I think that's who the third scorer was), everyone has an easier job. Think about this every time Jordan Eberle hops over the boards with a guy you've never heard of. "Is that Tony Iob? I thought he'd been suspended forever. Oh, they dicked around on the half-wall for a while and nothing happened. Wonder why that is."

As the game dragged on this difference in team-building technique manifested itself. The Oilers kept hustling and weren't as good. Edmonton got shots, Boston got chances. Were there any justice in Rexall the Bruins would have won the game in the last ten seconds of regulation, then won it again two seconds later.

No, it's not Craig MacTavish's fault that Jeff Petry and Anton Lander both got hurt. It is his fault that knocked out a fifth of our decent players at a stroke. It's certainly MacTavish's fault that Justin Schultz, who I was just saying such nice things about, was allowed to Jultz his way through every even-strength shift without being shot from the press box with a high-powered rifle. Better, a low-powered rifle. Constant plinks in the limbs with a .22 until he was twitching on the ice covered in his own fluids like an orangutan with ebola, which come to think he might be anyway.

After a point it becomes impossible to believe the Oilers will win games like this, even games where they never trail for a single second and the gimpy Ben Scrivens channels Grant Fuhr. By overtime, with the Bruins attack storming Edmonton's zone like Stukas, I was clenching my fingers and hoping the Oilers could get it to the coin-toss of the shootout. So were the Oilers, I think. The only reason Lucic didn't net the winner was karma.

Naturally the shootout went on forever with nobody scoring. It wouldn't have been a metaphor for the Oilers if it didn't. Boris Pasternak there could have written a novel about it; in fact, he had so long to wait he probably did. It only ended with the skill of Martin Marincin, a fine young defensemen who everybody in the world except Craig MacTavish knew all season belonged in the NHL. And so my near-three-year losing streak ended, but at least it ended poetically. In a lottery won by the inferior team thanks to one of its few quality players who, naturally, spent most of the year paying Justin Schultz's dues in the minors. These days even when we win it has a gloomy gloss.