The Edmonton Oilers are on fire.
It's the best kind of fire, a brilliant blaze of glory ignited by a spectacular month of March, during which they played 9-3-1 hockey and clinched their first playoff spot in 11 years. That fire grew brighter on Saturday night as captain Connor McDavid's three-point night led the Oilers to a scintillating comeback victory over the Anaheim Ducks, a 3-2 overtime thriller that meant much more than two points in the standings.
The Edmonton Oilers are first place in the Pacific Division.
This is the highest point the Oilers have been as a franchise in the past decade. After a strong start to the season, which few believed would be sustainable, the team somehow remained neck-and-neck with the California teams in the Pacific, keeping pace relentlessly through dogged determination and constant growth. Tonight's win came despite the Oilers being down with less than two minuets left in regulation against an elite team, fighting with their backs against the wall to claim the victory and the division lead.
Other things also happened. Cam Talbot tied Grant Fuhr for most wins by a goalie in Oilers franchise history with his 40th victory tonight. Connor McDavid's three-point performance gave him 94 on the season to put him seven clear of Patrick Kane for the NHL lead. Leon Draisaitl, who scored the overtime winner, had two points to increase the tally between him and McDavid to 168 points as the league's top-scoring duo.
For a team that has not had much in the way of superlatives in recent years, it's a total resurgence. But enough of comparisons to the past- the brightest spot in tonight's victory may be that this isn't even the team's final form. The fire burns strongly but gets fiercer by the day, its potential unknown and its limits dictated by the willingness of the team to continue learning from tough games like this one.
"We're learning lessons throughout and one of them is frustration and how to deal with it," said head coach Todd McLellan after the game. "I thought there were two games in one- there was the five-on-five where we didn't capitalize on a lot of opportunities, and there was the special teams where we were getting our butts handed to us with two minutes left in the game. But we stuck with it, fought through the frustration, and found a way to come out of it.
"Those are all learning opportunities for our team. It's brand new for us."
Overtime hero Leon Draisaitl also emphasized the importance of learning from these games as the team gears up for a playoff run, unfamiliar territory for most of the tea .
"I think we said that a while ago, that every game is a playoff-type game now, and tonight was the best example," he said. "We grinded for 60 minutes, but we needed more than 60 minutes to get two points, and a lot of time that's what it's going to take in the playoffs -- grind it out, there won't be very many scoring chances. I think the guys are getting used to it, and that's a big thing for us."
It was McDavid, involved on all three Oilers goals in the game, who opened the scoring at 19:11 in the first. Patrick Maroon walked the puck into the Ducks zone with a nifty dangle, then proceeded to carry it around the back of the net before passing to McDavid, who made no mistake from the circle to put the Oilers up 1-0. To the delight of 99% of hockey fans, Ryan Kesler was caught looking on the goal, a trend that would continue throughout the night.
Ryan Getzlaf tied it up at 1-1 with a slapshot that went right past a screened Cam Talbot on the power play 3:27 into the second period, and some sloppy defensive coverage from Klefbom allowed Patrick Eaves, who is essentially a brunette Santa Claus from California, to put the Ducks up ahead 2-1 with a tap-in from the side of the net.
The game almost got away at a few points, but the eventual 40-game winner was there to save the day (again). Cam Talbot bailed the team out big-time after a point blank chance was generated off a missed pass from McDavid to Nurse behind the Oilers net, then stopped Corey Perry on a breakaway with 7:30 left to keep his team close.
Anaheim looked like they were cruising, despite a hooking call on Antoine Vermette with 2:45 left in regulation. Lead secured, executing well with the fifth-best penalty kill in the league, the game seemed to be well within control until big mean Milan Lucic entered Hulk Mode. The big winger, who still wants McDavid back, tied the game with 1:58 left in regulation, tapping in the rebound off the one-timer from Draisaitl to tie it at 2-2 with
Kesler Voldemort right beside him.
So to overtime we went.
And to the highest-scoring duo in the NHL went the puck, off the stick of a falling Getzlaf. McDavid and Draisaitl streaked across the other way on a 2-on-1 that culminated with a can’t-miss pass for the German for a one-timer to end the game and create another heart-warming celly.
The Ducks were irate. The Oilers were jubilant. And the fire burned on, glowing that much brighter than before.
Tonight’s Good, Bad, Ugly features the song titles of the real Slim Shady (please stand up).
- Phenomenal- Countess times I’ve done these recaps, and countless times my fingers have typed out the name “Connor McDavid” in this section. I am doing it again tonight. Connor McDavid played a role in all three Oilers goals tonight and led the team with seven shots, his speed and playmaking ability again on display as he inched closer to 30 goals and 100 points. How is he so good? Is he even a human being? Why are the Oilers so blessed? Questions I, too, ponder, my friend. His coach’s post-game comments summed it all up-
“Remarkable, really. I've had the honor of being around some tremendous players in my day — Datsyuk, Thorton, Marleau, Crosby, you can go on and on — he's at a very very high level right now. He's separating himself, I believe, from a lot of people in the league, and I say that with a lot of respect for the others, but he's just remarkable right now.” - Todd McLellan
- Encore- Unlike Thursday’s victory over the Sharks, in which they were outshot 40-22, tonight the Oilers won that tally handily with 37 shots while limiting the Ducks to just 18 on Talbot.
- Lose Yourself- The top line was demolishing everything in their way. Combined for 15 shots, five points, even five hits for good measure, with all three members finishing above 60% in CF. Not only that, McDavid actually led the whole team in ice time with 24:27, ahead of even Oscar Klefbom (24:23), and still managed that remarkable burst of speed at the end. Draisaitl was not far behind with 23:31, and managed to keep up with McDavid at the end (though barely).
“I just saw Connor take off and then...it's pretty hard to keep up, I can tell you. I just got on my horse and tried to catch up.” - Leon Draisaitl
- Berzerk- Milan Lucic was already having a beast of a game before scoring that clutch goal to tie the game. Finished with a team-leading six hits, one goal, and a 65.52% CF, perhaps making his case to one day be by his idol Connor’s side.
- Big Weenie- Ryan Kesler missed a wide open net. Nothing makes me happier than seeing Ryan Kesler fail. See it here in all its glory.
- So Far... - The way teams are talking about the Oilers has shifted dramatically in the course of a single season. Having observed this team for years, I still carry a deprecating state of mind when it comes to perception of the Oilers, but hearing Getzlaf’s postgame comments drove home the fact that Edmonton is right up there with the best teams in the NHL.
We played a good hockey team. They're playing for their lives, too, and we've got to be able to finish games like that…Both these teams are elite teams, and the margin for error is minimal.
- Patiently Waiting- McLellan mentioned in the postgame that there are a few players who still need to step up. The third line of Benoit Pouliot, David Desharnais and Zack Kassian were the weakest line tonight comparatively, again occupying the bottom three in CF% after doing the same in the San Jose game. Not a major cause for concern, but an improvement would elevate the entire team as relying solely on first line scoring will not take the Oilers far in the playoffs.
- Dead Wrong- What the hell was this and why was it not a penalty? Hampus Lindholm made me consider my universally positive sentiment about the country of Sweden tonight, destroying the goodwill built from hundreds of visits to the IKEA restaurant.
Game in a Haiku
Sharks and Ducks, beware.
The Oilers seem to enjoy