Belief. It's what's carried Oilers fans these past ten years, ten grueling years of blind devotion with seemingly no reprieve in sight.
Disbelief. It's what washed over Oilers fans the morning of March 29, 2017, hours after they clinched their first playoff spot in 11 years.
As Oilers Nation adjusts to their new reality, one of a shiny, unfamiliar "x" next to the words "Edmonton Oilers," it's almost tempting to stay in this comfortable bubble of incredulity for a little longer as virtual fist bumps and hugs are exchanged in a long-awaited atmosphere of jubilation.
The season, however, continues-- up ahead are an important stretch of games that will determine their opponent and momentum going into the Playoffs (!!). Thursday night's 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks was an exclamation mark upon a monumental week for the team, marking the end of an era defined by broken promises and embarrassing ineptitude.
A win against the current division leader not only pulled the Oilers to within one point of first place in the Pacific, leapfrogging the Ducks for second, it showed they can keep up with the best of the West. Expectations, having been continually lowered throughout these years, were only realistically as high as playoffs for most fans this season, but the team didn't get that clinch just to fade out weakly in the first round.
Tonight's victory, which happened despite being outshot 40-22, was possible due to three key figures whose elevated play this season has brought the Oilers to this point- Connor McDavid, with a spectacular shorthanded goal to give the Oilers their first lead; Cam Talbot, with 38 saves; and Patrick Maroon, scoring his 26th and 27th goals of the season in a magical season.
The importance of these games was not lost on McDavid.
"It's so tight up and down the conference, so you could really end up anywhere and play anyone," he said. "I think if we're going to go far in the playoffs, all roads lead to those guys, so definitely a good test for us and a good win."
Maroon emphasized the importance of sticking to the systems and strategy that have gotten them this far in the season.
"We did a really good job of just battling, staying with the system and focusing, making sure we're doing the right things," he said. "Our commitment is to playing good defense and that leads to offense."
The game got off to a deflating start, as Jannick Hansen helped the Sharks take an early lead 1:01 into the game, beating Cam Talbot with a backhand off a rebound for his eighth of the season.
Patrick Maroon tied things up at 1-1 midway through the first with a wrister that beat Martin Jones for his 26th (!!) of the year. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl picked up their 63rd (!!) and 45th (!!) assists of the season, respectively, adding to their total as the top-scoring duo in the NHL with 162 points.
Then, Connor McDavid did the thing. The thing that only he can do, that simultaneously brings disbelief and delight in the span of a few seconds.
Streaking in from center ice shorthanded, on a slow change from the Sharks, he made Patrick Marleau look downright silly as he skated right past him, stickhandling so much in two seconds it resembled a flip book, then beat Jones with a backhand for his 28th of the year. It was a more beautiful sight than a free box of Krispy Kreme donuts, and that is really a spectacular accomplishment. With that goal, he is now seven points up on Patrick Kane for the NHL scoring lead.
The game remained scoreless until 7:51 into the third, when Patrick Maroon got his second of the game and 27th (!!) of the season, deflecting a shot from Kris Russell just outside the circle to make it a 3-1 game. That breathing room would prove to be critical as Joe Pavelski made it close, scoring with 6:01 left in the game to tie it at 3-2, but Cam Talbot held his ground, making some key saves on the Sharks in the dying seconds to preserve the victory for the home team.
And onwards they go, facing another divisional opponent next in Anaheim, in search of new highs as the fanbase remains firmly on theirs, unwilling to relinquish their hard-earned euphoria.
Believe it or not, the hockey only gets better from here.
Tonight's Good, Bad, and Ugly features song titles from Mimi, aka Mariah Carey, who has yet to be emancipated.
- Emotions- I cannot fathom writing another word without mentioning the fact that Adam Larsson got into a fight tonight. Larsson has been a bulldog all season, providing steady defence with a steady dose of that meanness the team has lacked for so long. The Larsson-Hall trade is still a touchy subject, but the volume of criticism has significantly diminished as Larsson has pushed and shoved his way into the hearts of Oilers fans. Tonight, his Swedish conscience didn’t quite like the way Jannik Hansen (the toughest heavyweight out there, amirite) bumped Cam Talbot, so he decided to do something about it.
- Obsessed- The praises for Cameron Solomon Talbot have been sung extensively this season. I don’t care. I will keep singing. Try to stop me. Oh no, you can’t, because you’re not Cam Talbot. The Oilers do not win tonight’s game if Cam Talbot doesn’t bail them out, stopping 38 of 40 shots for a .950 SV%.
- Don’t Forget About Us- The fourth line was absolutely killing it tonight, esp Drizzy Caggiula with a sweet scoring chance on a shorthanded rush, which was stopped but led immediately to McDavid’s go-ahead goal. Caggiula led the whole team with a 68.42% CF on a night the Oilers were badly outshot, followed closely by Mark Letestu (60.87%) and Anton Slepyshev (52.17%).
- Shouts to Connor McDavid for being Connor McDavid and putting the Oilers up with an absolutely slick goal. Watch it again now and salivate:
ICYMI, Connor did Connor things. #SJSvsEDM pic.twitter.com/A1O6RCEpAT— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 31, 2017
- #Beautiful (Remix)- Oscar Klefbom quietly had himself a great night. Picked up his 19th assist of the season with a really nice pass to set up McDavid’s goal above, three shots, three blocks, no giveaways and led the team in ice time with 22:43. Another great, underrated story this season.
- Did I Do That?- The Oilers actually won the faceoff battle, 58% to 42%. This is not unprecedented but sure feels like it.
- You’re So Cold- The third line...um...were moderately terrible tonight, taking up the bottom three slots in the team’s CF% ranking, all three below 30% despite moderate zone start %’s, and combining for one shot between all three players.
- Vulnerability (Interlude)- It does become a precarious strategy when the team gets outshot 40-22 and counts on Talbot to bail them out. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. It just tends to not be a great idea in the long term.
Game in a Haiku
should only be compared to