EDMONTON — Big goals, there have been a few.
When you win five Stanley Cups, play in two more and have a bunch of guys re-writing the record books in the ’80s, finding the top-five goals in Edmonton Oilers history isn’t hard. Heck, you could find 15.
But we settled on the top five, in ranking order. Here’s our list:
Kevin McClelland, May 10, 1984
Game 1, 1984 Stanley Cup Final
Three springs prior, in 1981, the Oilers had lost a Round 2 series in six games to the mighty New York Islanders — a team in the middle of a four-in-a-row Stanley Cup dynasty. In 1983 they met again in the Stanley Cup Final, which the Islanders swept in four games.
So there stood the Oilers in May of 1984, back in a Cup Final on Long Island, skating out for the third period in Game 1 tied 0-0. Brimming with confidence?
Ya, not really…
“A lot of us were thinking, ‘It’s been 0-0 for two periods. When are they going to blow us out?’” began Kevin Lowe, a stalwart defenceman on those old Oilers clubs.
It was the third shift of the final period — after the Gretzky line and the Messier line had their shifts — when Pat Hughes jumped on a puck in the corner, and hit a charging Kevin McClelland with a pass. McClelland one-touched the puck past Billy Smith from about 10 feet for a 1-0 lead that stood up, giving Edmonton its first-ever series lead over the Islanders.
“It was ironic that the Oilers’ most meaningful win ever was a 1-0 win,” said Lowe. “We’d had such a hard time with the Islanders, and particularly on the Island — they were unbeatable there, to us — to squeeze out a 1-0 win, and for the goal to come when it did (1:55 of the third)… The way they just used to wear teams down, for Kevin McClelland to score, a third-, fourth-line guy. It meant so much to us.
“To think we went from there to absolutely blowing them out in the three games in Edmonton, it’s hard to fathom. Mac’s goal was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
As the franchise’s most important goal, Lowe adds an honourable mention to Mark Messier’s goal in Game 3 of that series when he undressed defenceman Gord Dineen and rifled a wrist shot past Smith to tie the game at 2-2. It was a moment when Messier showed the older Islanders that there was a new Sherriff in town. The Oilers never trailed again in the series after that goal, and Messier won the Conn Smythe.
“You don’t know how to win until you win,” said Lowe. “Those goals — Kevin Mac’s and Mess’s — allowed us to get from, ‘Holy cow, we might win,’ to ‘Holy cow, we ARE winning.’
“Thus begun the dynasty.”
Wayne Gretzky, Feb. 24, 1982
Gretzky breaks Phil Esposito’s single-season, goal-scoring record
There came a time when record-breaking games were commonplace in Edmonton, whether it was Gretzky, Paul Coffey or someone else fashioning a new NHL mark. But what made Gretzky’s 77th goal of the 1981-82 season so special was that it wasn’t a longevity record.
It was a single-season, goal-scoring mark held by Phil Esposito, and the Bruins great had been following the Oilers for several games waiting for Gretzky to notch goal No. 77. He did it one night in Buffalo, slipping one through the pads of Sabres goalie Don Edwards.
“I think everyone in that building was waiting for it to happen,” said Buffalo play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret. “And when he scored that goal the fans just went nuts. Just like their own team had scored.”
Gretzky was 20, and many, many record-breaking nights lay ahead. But Edmonton had not won a Cup yet, nor had Gretzky set any significant records prior to this one.
He would go on to score 92 goals that season, a mark that still stands. But No. 77 — at the old Buffalo Auditorium — was a special one.
Steve Smith, Apr. 30, 1986
Game 7, Round 2 vs. Calgary
This one hurts, but no list of prominent Oilers goals is complete without the inclusion of the clearing pass that Smith fired off of Grant Fuhr’s left ankle and into his own net back in ’86.
“I got good wood on it,” Smith joked after the game, having faced the media like a true pro on his 23rd birthday, and by far the most disastrous night of a long and successful NHL career.
“I went back for the puck,” he told me for the book The Battle of Alberta, “and as I went back for it I knew I was being forechecked pretty quickly. I think it was Mike Krushelnyski I saw heading toward the penalty box. I turned, pulling the puck back away from the net towards the bench side, and went to force a seam pass across the ice.
“At that point in time, you’re looking at your receiver. You’re not looking at where the puck is, or whether it’s on your stick or not. You’re looking up ice. Obviously, I didn’t see Grant or his leg. It went off of him.”
The puck went in at the 5:14 mark of the third, but Edmonton couldn’t find another goal and lost 3-2, their run of two straight Stanley Cups snapped.
Fernando Pisani, June 14, 2006
Game 5, 2006 Stanley Cup Final
The Oilers are back in the Stanley Cup for the first time in 16 years, but trailing the series 3-1 and trying to kill off a penalty in overtime of Game 5 — on the road in Carolina.
In the offensive zone, Jarret Stoll subtly hooks Cory Stilman, who fanned on his breakout pass. Pisani jumped on the slow-moving puck and walked in all alone on Cam Ward.
Pisani, who couldn’t miss that spring — he had 14 playoff goals in ’06 — scored the first-ever short-handed, overtime winner in Stanley Cup Final history, sending the series back to Edmonton for Game 6.
“The pass was coming slow,” Pisani said. “I just jumped up. I wasn’t sure, but I decided to go for it. It worked out well.”
The Oilers would lose that series in seven games, but Pisani’s goal was the difference between a dreary five-game series and a seven-game classic.
Kevin Lowe, Oct. 10, 1979
NHL game No. 1 for Edmonton, and the Oilers first goal
It was the first NHL game for Lowe and many of the young Oilers, the season opener in 1979-80 — the first season after the four World Hockey Association teams had been allowed entry into the NHL.
“It was all very surreal. We started in Chicago Stadium,” Lowe remembers. “First they play the song in warmups, ‘Here Come The Hawks,’ and then the organ starts. I’d never heard the pipe organ before. It was like, ‘What the heck is that?’”
The Oilers’ first pre-season was full of games against Winnipeg and Vancouver, Lowe remembers. “It was like we hadn’t played a real NHL team yet, and the Blackhawks just came rolling out at us. We were down 2-0 before we knew it, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, this is going to be a long year.’”
Lowe recalls the first goal like it was yesterday — even it was over 40 years ago.
“It was a power-play goal. My immediate reaction was, ‘Hey. We’re back in the game! We got a goal,’” he said. “And then Gretz picked up the puck and he comes over. I wasn’t even thinking in the context of having scored the Oilers first goal, not for a second. But Gretz, being Gretz, says, ‘That’s the Oilers first goal.’ Typical of Gretz to be thinking about that, when I’m just thinking, ‘Hey, we’re back in the game. 2-1. Maybe we have a chance.’”
It was a backhand, power-play goal on Blackhawks great Tony Esposito.
“I kinda snuck in, Brett Callighen got it to me but I couldn’t shoot on my forehand. So I brought it to the backhand, and I thought, ‘I’m close enough, I’d better put it on net.’ It just fluttered in. It wasn’t a spectacular goal by any stretch.”