The 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs hold a special place in the hearts of the current generation of fans of the Edmonton Oilers. It was also the last this organization was involved in a playoff series in which they took a 3-1 series lead. After last night’s crazy 5-3 victory over a beleaguered Calgary Flames side, this group of players has entered a spot that is completely foreign to them and they appear ready for the moment.
Yes, the Oilers did enjoy some success during the 2017 Playoffs but this is different. They are one win away from not only disposing of their provincial rival and reaching their first Western Conference Final in sixteen long years but they’ll have three cracks at getting it done. The pressure of closing this out is now 100% on their shoulders and having additional kicks at the can should be a huge plus for this squad.
Edmonton deserves to be in the spot they’re in but the Flames and their fans would probably say this series should be tied. As far as 3-1 series’ go and especially in one with this many goals being scored, it has been closer than said game count might suggest. With that said, finding ways to win close games is what the playoffs is all about and Jay Woodcroft’s crew has done exactly that over the last five days.
His top line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane has done the vast majority of the heavy lifting but this is series in which other key players continue to contribute in a big way. Last night it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ turn in the spotlight, with a pair of goals, including the game winner. Zach Hyman has been outstanding throughout the first four games, scoring in every game and five times in total.
Come playoff time, in order for teams to be successful, the need for lesser likes to contribute from time to time is a thing but the more importantly, is the production your top guys deliver and the play of your goaltender. Mike Smith has ranged from excellent to downright awful in this series but expecting anything other than inconsistency from him was never realistic.
To his credit, he has been good enough to this point in the series and made a number of timely saves over the past three games. It’s rarely if ever pretty when it comes to the veteran tender and in the end, winning is all that matters. Smith will likely need to be even better in order for the Oilers to close this series out but with three shots at getting this done, chances are he’ll be good in one or two of them.
Meaning this will come down to the best players getting it done. From a Flames perspective, it’s up to Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk to produce something close to what we saw during the regular season. Not to mention Jacob Markstrom, who looked much better over the final two periods of Game Four, after simply being overwhelmed by the Oilers offence.
Calgary has the horses upfront to push this to the limit and would get two of the next three games on home-ice if they can do it. However, at this point in the series, does anyone honestly believe the Flames have the wherewithal to quite Edmonton’s five best players for three consecutive games? Unless Markstrom can find a way to channel his inner Andrei Vasilevskiy, it’s seems rather unlikely.
So yes, the Edmonton Oilers have officially entered uncharted territory and now they have to find a way to close the deal. How it happens is of no consequence but the only acceptable outcome is for them to be one of the two teams taking part in the Western Conference Final. Heading into the 2021-22 campaign, for me, anything short of this would deem their season a failure and nothing has changed.