EDMONTON — Forget everything these Edmonton Oilers tell you about how they’re confident that they can play with anyone. And that they’ve outgrown any moral victories.
This one — a loser point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the mighty Boston Bruins — was a point they never expected they could get. One they didn’t know they were capable of earning, under the circumstances that met the Oilers Wednesday night at Rogers Place.
You could tell by the way the home team dipped its collective toe in the water Wednesday, edging into the game. Already playing without Connor McDavid and now minus Oscar Klefbom as well, the Oilers first view of this game came like a groundhog poking out of his hole looking for the sun.
“What we want to learn from that game is we need some swagger early on,” admitted Sam Gagner. “Making plays under pressure and having confidence with the puck in the first period would have set us up better. But we clawed our way to a point. Lots to like against a really good team.”
This is the kind of game of which there are very few in a season. A game that sets a template, to be returned to later on, when the games get tough.
This was a 2-1 overtime loss where the Oilers — playing with $30 million worth of players either injured or suspended — fell behind Boston 1-0 just 8:28 into the game, yet somehow didn’t give up the next one.
They killed seven power plays against the No. 2 unit in the league, and then Edmonton — whose league-leading power play is gutted — got its only goal from a seldom used second unit, as Gagner tipped home an Ethan Bear shot.
There were 100 points in this game where a weak link could have coughed up a goal, but unlike Oilers teams of yore that link was never exposed — despite a defence core that employed three rookies and charged Darnell Nurse with playing a game-high 28:44.
“That’s the recipe for us,” Gagner said. “That was a playoff-style atmosphere and we have to be comfortable in the kinds of games like this. We have to have the confidence to play with whatever’s going on around here (injuries). I thought our young defencemen were great. (Caleb) Jones went up into the second pair and played really well. Laggy (William Lagesson) did a good job. You want to see how young guys respond to tough challenges.”
So that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
How many teams look at this game, consider their injuries and the opponent, and say to themselves, “Let’s face it: We don’t have a chance tonight.”
Surely there was an element of Edmonton’s psyche that was telling them the cards were stacked against them on Wednesday. You could see it in their early play.
“If it is, we shouldn’t be,” said head coach Dave Tippett, whose mantra is to erase all of the negativity that preceded him here, and replace it with some swagger and confidence.
“We are a good team too,” he began. “We just won two games in a row, why can’t we keep winning? It is a mindset, you have to go out and play.”
That David Pastrnak took a stretch pass and salted this game away with an overtime breakaway will be forgotten by Thursday morning in this town. What will live on is the effort a bunch of Bakersfield call-ups gave their parent team; the way Kailer Yamamoto dove into his battles with the giant Zdeno Chara, giving as good as he got; the way Jones and Lagesson’s games escalated as the pressure ramped up.
The way they grabbed a point against the NHL’s best team on a night when McDavid was out and Leon Draisaitl went without a point.
“Some guys have been looking for more opportunities,” Tippett said. “I liked the way Jones’s game evolved during that game. That first period was very average like a lot of the rest of them, same with Lagesson. But as the game went on they got better. That is a really good power play over there and I think Laggy had four minutes of PK (4:41).”
The longer this game went, and the closer it stayed, the more the Oilers believed.
And trust us, this franchise has not been long on belief in the past decade or so.
“Maybe they just need to get so tired that they didn’t think about that they shouldn’t be playing against Boston,” Tippett figured. “They are good players, just get out there and play.
“We have to play with confidence if we are going to win.”