He was a bland Swede from a team nobody watches (New Jersey), for the guy who sold more jerseys in Edmonton than anyone since Wayne Gretzky.
“A 15-point defenceman?!? For Taylor Hall?” wondered Oilers fans. “What else did we get?”
This wasn’t Subban for Weber. It was a Datsun for a Ferrari – or so they thought. As it turns out Larsson, who scored twice in a stunning 5-3 win to open this Round 2 series in Anaheim, was more Hummer than Datsun.
And the trade?
Question: Who has more playoff goals in an Oilers uniform?
Answer: You have to get to the playoffs to score a playoff goal.
“I don’t think we even knew how physical, how hard he’d be,” said Oiler power-play specialist Mark Letestu, who potted identical goals against a Ducks teams that’s now surrendered eight power-play goals in five games this post-season. “He led our team in hits (sixth in the NHL), and he’s been that guy right from Game 1. I’m just happy to see him get rewarded for it.”
Leon Draisaitl had an empty-netter and three assists for a four-point night, while Larsson added an assist for a three-point evening. He’d never had back-to-back games with a goal in the NHL, and the last time Larsson scored twice in the same night was in Skelleftea, his hometown club back in Sverge.
“That was a long time ago,” chuckled the 6-foot-3, 205 pound blue-liner.
The stats geeks still hate the Hall trade. The reason? Because their craft isn’t far enough along at this point to quantify the qualities in Larsson’s game that makes Edmonton better.
Conduct a poll of 200 hockey men, and it might be unanimous: Edmonton got what it needed in that deal, and giving up Hall was well worth it.
“We needed to improve our blue-line, and we needed an anchor back there. Lars has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan, whose team has now won five of its last six games in these playoffs.
Edmonton battled through a hard, physical game Wednesday against a Ducks team that isn’t afraid to use their sticks where no pucks are involved. Ryan Kesler pushed and prodded Connor McDavid all over the ice. Ryan Getzlaf was liberal with cross checks and slashes, while scoring a beauty and adding an assist.
And Corey Perry? It’s not a Southern California hockey game unless Perry spears someone, is it?
Hall’s Oilers would curl up in a ball when met with this game. Larsson’s prevailed. It’s not so simple – no trade is – but GM Peter Chiarelli really nailed this one, acquiring a hard, sometimes-dirty, physical player who perfectly embodies everything the old Oilers lacked.
“We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole,” McLellan said. “What [Chiarelli] did to change the complexion of our team takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity in the community. Taylor’s a tremendous player.”
And all Larsson had to do was come to Edmonton and hear about it. Incessantly.
“There will always be comparisons, but it’s a forward [for a] D-man. I felt really welcome coming to the organization, and that helped,” he said.
“If it was difficult, he didn’t show it,” Letestu said. “He just came in and was himself. He didn’t try to produce points because we were missing Taylor, and our expectations in the room were never that he was replacing Hall. He handled it like a pro. Tonight’s the night where he shows up big for us.”
Larsson’s game-winner is perhaps a sign of some mojo happening here. The Oilers have five playoff wins this spring, with the game-winners coming from Zack Kassian (two), Anton Slepyshev, David Desharnais, and now Larsson.
Five unlikely subjects – the recipe for playoff success. Meanwhile, McDavid’s assist gives him five points in seven games this spring. He has not dominated, but that kind of production can’t be sneezed at.
“Lars doesn’t get much credit for a lot of the work he puts in for this team. I’m really glad for him tonight,” said his defence partner Oscar Klefbom, with whom he commiserated when he arrived in town to realize his acquisition was being viewed as a bad trade by fans and media. “We talked about that quite a bit in the beginning when he came to Edmonton. There was a lot of media asking him about it.
“He says, ‘I just answer very boring, and they stop asking me about it.’”
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle won’t be so soft spoken Thursday when he works his Ducks through an 11 a.m. practice. Anaheim came back from down 3-1, tying the game at 3-3 with 9:00 to play. Then Larsson went end-to-end, banking a centering pass into the net off of Josh Manson’s shin pad for the winner.
“We have to get more people involved – emotionally and physically – in the next game. That’s for sure,” Carlyle said.