The Oilers stomped the Ducks on Sunday night, staving off elimination and forcing a seventh game Wednesday night in Anaheim. In a series that’s had a little bit of everything, Edmonton’s 7–1 blowout was just the latest unpredictable twist, and at this point it’s fair to say that anything is possible in Game 7.
But we do know one thing: Something horrible is going to happen.
The Ducks’ recent history of losing Game 7s has been well documented; they’ve dropped five in a row, including seeing each of their last four seasons end in a Game 7 loss on home ice. Last year’s loss cost Bruce Boudreau his job and had Bob Murray ripping his players.
But the Ducks’ recent history might overshadow a more ominous trend: The Oilers have an uncanny knack for being involved in emotionally crushing winter-take-all games. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but they have a way of making sure the game leaves a scar.
So today, as we wait for Wednesday night’s showdown, let’s relive the Oilers’ history of Game 7 misery (with one Game 5 thrown in for good measure). We’ll count down all 10 of the winner-take-all games in the team’s history, from least to most tragic.
No. 10: 1984 – Oilers 7, Flames 4
The setup: The Oilers had run away with the Presidents’ Trophy, finishing 37 points up on Calgary. They’d also threatened to run away with the series, taking a 3–1 lead, before a pair of one-goal Flames wins forced a deciding game.
The game: The Flames held tough early on, coming back from an early 2–0 deficit to take a 4–3 lead midway through the second. But the Oilers poured it on from there, scoring the game’s final four goals to earn a 7–4 win.
Defining memory: Reggie Lemelin made a highlight-reel save on a Pat Hughes breakaway but lost his stick in the process, and Kenny Linesman stuffed home the winner while the Flames’ goalie was scrambling to retrieve it. The goal also touched off a line brawl, because this was the Battle of Alberta and that’s just how they rolled.
Misery ranking: 2/10. Consider this relatively painless game as the exception that proves the rule; the late collapse was tough on the Flames, but we’d all expected an Oilers win and the Flames had done well just to push them to the limit. Calgary would get a rematch two years later. Spoiler alert: That one would be worse.
No. 9: 1998 – Oilers 4, Avalanche 0
The setup: After dropping Games 3 and 4 at home to fall behind in the series 3–1, the underdog Oilers fought back to force a seventh game against an Avalanche team looking to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
The game: What seemed like a potential goaltender’s duel between Patrick Roy and Curtis Joseph ended up being a one-sided affair, with the Oilers building a 3–0 lead by midway through the third period. They’d end up taking the game by a 4–0 final in front of a dead-quiet Colorado crowd.
Defining memory: Joseph gets wiped out in the corner by a teammate, then scrambles back to his crease to make a diving save on Rene Corbet, snuffing out any hope of a Colorado comeback.
Misery ranking: 5/10. This would be the Avalanche’s only first-round loss (and only time they didn’t make it at least as far as the Conference Final) in their first seven years in Colorado. More importantly for the rest of us, it ended any chance of seeing another Red Wings/Avalanche cage match.
No. 8: 1989 – Kings 6, Oilers 3
The setup: A win in the dying second of game four had put the Oilers up 3–1 in the series, but the Kings fought back to force a seventh game. (As a side note, a lot of Oilers seven-game series seem to involve teams coming back from down 3–1. This means something. I don’t know what.)
Of course, this was more than just a playoff series — it was the first post-season meeting between the two teams since the previous summer’s blockbuster that had sent Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles.
The game: Gretzky opened the scoring less than a minute in, but the two teams were tied late in the second. That’s when Bernie Nicholls scored the eventual winner, as the Kings went on to a 6–3 win.
Defining memory: Gretzky’s empty netter sealed the deal, ending the Oilers’ two-year reign as champions.
Misery ranking: 6/10. Whether losing to their former franchise player made this more or less painful for Edmonton fans is a matter of perspective. At the time, it felt like the Oilers’ time as an elite NHL franchise had ended with the trade, although they’d come back and win another Cup the following season.
No. 7: 1997 – Oilers 4, Stars 3 (OT)
The setup: With 104 points, the Stars came into the series as huge favourites over a sub-.500 Oilers squad. But the series ended up being a classic, and four straight one-goal games pushed it to a deciding seventh game.
The game: The two teams traded goals, ending regulation tied at three. That set the stage for a pair of exhilarating moments that still hold up, even two decades later.
Defining memory: You just saw them. Between Joseph’s save, Todd Marchant’s goal right after and Bob Cole’s legendary call, you could make a surprisingly strong case that this was one of the best sequences in first-round playoff series history.
Misery ranking: 7/10. At the time, this was a stunning upset. In hindsight, we know the Stars would win the Cup in 1999, not to mention take their revenge by beating the Oilers in five straight series over the next six years. So the misery factor takes a bit of a hit, even though the finishing sequence remains an all-timer.
No. 6: 1982 – Kings 7, Oilers 4
The setup: This is the one Game 5 that shows up on our list, from back in the day when first-round series were only five games long. (The Oilers played six other five-game series in their history, and all six ended in three-game sweeps.) It featured a 111-point Oilers powerhouse that everyone expected to easily roll over a Kings squad that had finished with just 63 points.
It also capped off one of the wildest series in NHL history, one that saw the high-flying Oilers win a pair of 3–2 squeakers while suffering through memorable collapses in two losses. In the opening game, the Oilers had blown a 4–1 lead before losing 10–8, setting a record for most goals scored in a playoff loss that still stands (and probably always will). But the real stunner came in Game 3, when the Oilers blew a 5–0 third-period lead to lose 6–5 in what would go on to be known as the Miracle on Manchester.
The game: This time, the Kings wouldn’t need a comeback. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead and held off some early Oilers pressure. By late in the third, the Kings were up 7-2, and a pair of late Oiler goals only made the final modestly more respectable.
Defining memory: A fan threw a rubber chicken at Kings’ goalie Mario Lessard. That was pretty much the highlight of the game from an Oilers perspective.
Misery ranking: 7/10. The Oilers were packed with talent, but this stunning loss led to all sorts of questions as to whether they’d ever win a championship.
No. 5: 1991 – Oilers 5, Flames 4 (OT)
The setup: This was the sixth Battle of Alberta playoff meeting in nine years, and while we didn’t know it at the time, to this day it remains the last. The Oilers were the defending champs, but the Flames had put together the better regular season, finishing 20 points up on their provincial rivals to earn home ice. Calgary had clawed back from a 3–1 series deficit, forcing the deciding game on Theo Fleury’s memorable Game 6 winner in overtime.
The game: The Flames stormed out to a 3-0 lead and looked like they might run away with it. But the Oilers fought back to tie it, and the two teams headed to overtime tied at four. That’s where Esa Tikkanen snuck one past Mike Vernon to end the series.
Defining memory: Tikkanen’s overtime goal was the game’s biggest play, but Flames fans may still be seeing visions of Joe Nieuwendyk’s partial breakaway chance in the final minute of regulation.
Misery ranking: 8/10. Blowing a three-goal lead and losing in overtime was painful enough when the Oilers did it on Friday. Imagine doing it on home ice in a winner-take-all game against your biggest rival.
No. 4: 1990 – Oilers 4, Jets 1
The setup: If the 1980s Flames were the scrappy younger sibling to the Oilers’ big-brother act, the Jets were the family runt just trying to get noticed. By 1990, they’d won just two playoff rounds in franchise history, and had lost to Edmonton in the playoffs five times while winning just a single game.
But 1990 was different, with the Jets going toe-to-toe with the Oilers early on, and Dave Ellett’s double-overtime winner in Game 4 left Winnipeg with a 3–1 series lead before a pair of 4–3 Oiler wins set the stage for a winner-take-all showdown.
The game: Glenn Anderson put the Oilers up early, but Thomas Steen tied it just seconds later. That’s where the good news ended for Winnipeg, who held tough but ultimately dropped a 4–1 decision.
Defining memory: The Ellett overtime goal. Yes, I know, that wasn’t even part of Game 7. But listen to that crowd. Watch that celebration. You’re looking at what may very well be the greatest moment in Jets franchise history. And three games later, the Oilers had taken it all away from them.
Misery ranking: 9/10. This was an NHL franchise being reminded that it didn’t matter and never would. A Winnipeg team hasn’t won a playoff round since. To really get a sense of how much lingering bitterness this series caused, please enjoy this clip of WWE star Chris Jericho describing his intense desire to attack Mark Messier with a crowbar:
No. 3: 1987 – Oilers 3, Flyers 1
The setup: The league’s two best regular-season teams met in the final, with the favoured Oilers taking yet another 3–1 series lead. But the Flyers fought back with a pair of one-goal wins, forcing the first Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final in 16 years.
The game: Murray Craven got Philadelphia on the board on the power play just two minutes in, but that would be it for the Flyers’ offence. The Oilers got a goal from a future Hall of Famer in each period to take home a 3–1 win. Please enjoy these highlights set to overly dramatic music.
Defining memory: A slumped-over Ron Hextall after the clinching Oilers goal. The rookie goalie would take home a rare Conn Smythe win as a member of the losing team, but that wasn’t much consolation after coming so close to pulling off the upset. Years later, he admitted that he’s never been able to go back and rewatch this game.
Misery ranking: 9/10. A Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final will always be a brutal experience for the losing team. This one is especially tough for Flyers fans; it’s as close as the team has come to a Cup in 42 years and counting.
No. 2: 1986 – Flames 3, Oilers 2
The setup: The Oilers had won back-to-back Cups and just wrapped up a 119-point regular season. Finishing 30 points back, the Flames didn’t seem like much of a threat to the Edmonton dynasty. But they’d played the Oilers tough, leading the series three times on the way to a Game 7 showdown.
The game: The Flames jumped out to a 2–0 lead, but the Oilers scored twice in the second period to tie it up. Nobody remembers any of that. We all remember what happened in the third.
Defining memory: Steve Smith’s own-goal is unforgettable. But the image of him bawling his eyes out while going through the handshake line may be even more haunting.
Misery ranking: 10/10. More than 30 years later, this is still painful to watch. Knowing that the Oilers won three more Cups and that Smith went on to a long and successful career makes it a little better. Not much, but just enough to keep it from being the most misery-inducing Game 7 in Oilers history.
No. 1: 2006 – Hurricanes 3, Oilers 1
The setup: Against all odds, the eighth-seed Oilers had made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, their first trip past round one in eight years. An opening-game injury to Dwayne Roloson was devastating, and the Hurricanes took a 3–1 series lead. But the Oilers clawed back with an OT road win in Game 5, followed by a home victory in Game 6 to force one final game for the Stanley Cup.
The game: Carolina opened the scoring just two minutes in, and would take a 2–0 lead into the second intermission. But the Oilers wouldn’t quit, scoring early in the third to pull within one. You could feel the inevitable tying goal coming. This was one of the greatest Cinderella runs in NHL history, and they hadn’t come all this way only to fall just short at the end.
Except they had. Justin Williams’s empty-netter iced the game, and the Oilers’ miracle post-season fell one game short.
Defining memory: You can pick your poison here, but I’ve always been partial to Cam Ward stopping Fernando Pisani on the doorstep with four minutes to go.
Misery ranking: 10/10. “It’s like everything you feared rushing right at you.” That was Shawn Horcoff’s reaction after the final horn, and it remains one of the best descriptions of a gut-wrenching loss in sports history.
But in hindsight, we know it was even worse than that. The 2006 run wasn’t the start of something — it was the end. Within days, Chris Pronger would demand a trade. The Oilers wouldn’t make the playoffs or even come especially close for 11 long years, becoming a league punchline along the way.
It takes one hell of a loss to knock “scoring into your own net” out of the top spot on a list of most devastating Game 7s, but this one qualifies. For a franchise with an almost freakish track record of seventh-game misery, nothing can match 2006. This was as bad as it gets.
(Well, at least until tomorrow night. Enjoy the game, everyone.)