Historic Oilers collapse a tipping point for fan base

The Edmonton Oilers blew a 2-1 lead when they gave up five straight goals to the Chicago Blackhawks and fell 6-2.

EDMONTON — It’s unraveling now, the way it seems to every season in Edmonton, at some point or another. A six-game losing streak left the Oilers tied for the second-last spot in the Western Conference Tuesday night, left fans’ jerseys on the ice and left the goalie throwing death stares at his coach.

In its brutal totality, it left their prized possession — Connor McDavid — in a place that has become all too familiar: staring at a trip to the world championships, while standing in front of a bank of cameras and microphones, answering for further failure in Edmonton.

“What does it feel like to be Connor McDavid right now?” he was asked.

“You know how I feel,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

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Leading 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Oilers surrendered five third-period goals to lose 6-2. It was a third-period collapse of some historic magnitude, not seen in a quarter century — since April 11, 1993, to be exact.

This was the third consecutive game in which Edmonton had led in the third period, only to lose. In weekend games at Philadelphia and Montreal, the Oilers dropped games in overtime, but on a freezing cold Tuesday at home, they rewarded a crowd that had ventured through minus-30 temperatures with a complete fold-down, giving up four goals in 2:48 of the third period.

Cam Talbot was pulled in favour of Mikko Koskinen, but not before he appeared to have some choice words for head coach Ken Hitchcock as he skated past en route to the dressing room.

“We hung Talbs out to dry. It wasn’t good enough,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “Then Kosk came in and we hung him out to dry, too. Not good enough.

“We go out there for the third and feel ready to go. Say all the right stuff. It’s simple. We’ve got to be better.”

In a scene not witnessed here in a couple of seasons, more than one disgruntled fan tossed their jersey onto the Rogers Place ice. Hats too. As much frustration and discord as is growing inside the walls of an organization that has fired both its head coach and GM this season, it boils at a much cooler temperature than the blood of its terminally under-served fan base.

“I saw some jerseys on the ice,” said Chicago left-winger Drake Caggiula, who played on the Blackhawks top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, while Brandon Manning, the defenceman former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli had acquired in a trade for Caggiula, was a healthy scratch for Edmonton.

It’s a microcosm of Chiarelli’s trading record, to be sure, while what remains on Edmonton’s roster is a residue of his devilish work. He leaves behind an Oilers club that does not have enough goaltending, does not have a proper NHL defence corps, and does not have more than one top-six winger.

And it is criminally capped out, needing to make a move soonest to make cap room for Andrej Sekera, a $5.5-million, 32-year-old defenceman coming off of ACL and Achilles tears. Sekera is the cavalry, literally limping over the hill.

“We just collapsed,” said Leon Draisaitl, who scored both Edmonton goals. “We turned the puck over and collapsed. That’s it.

“We have to figure it out.”

Credit the Blackhawks for their push-back. They walked in here, trailing after two, and brought the Oilers to their collective knees.

But how long does it take for this group to grow some character? How long to figure out to how to finish, when for 40 minutes you’re good enough to gain a lead?

“We can talk all we want,” said McDavid. “We’ve just got to find a way to grab (the game) when it’s going like that. Have a strong shift, get some pucks in. Find a way to grind in the O-zone, and get some life back. It seems to build when stuff goes wrong, and we never grab it.”

Or, perhaps a better word is “grasp.”

Here in Edmonton, they never quite grasp it, do they?


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