Another post-season win came with yet another playoff hero for the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night as the young club opened up Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
Defenceman Adam Larsson (two goals, one assist) and forward Leon Draisaitl (one goal, three assists), shared the Game 1 spotlight in the resilient win, which saw the Oilers give up a two-goal lead before rallying for the late win.
In the eyes of Wayne Gretzky, this was a statement victory for the young club.
“I thought last night was one of the best games that our team played, not necessarily as far as perfection goes, but to still hang on after we had given up a two-goal lead, to be able to score a late goal and win on the road, that says a lot about the maturity of the hockey club,” Gretzky said during an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon Thursday.
Everything seems to be clicking now at the best possible time. And in the eyes of The Great One, it starts with the man in net.
“I’m so impressed by Cam Talbot,” he said, adding that he believes Talbot should have been part of the NHL’s all-star festivities this season. “For him to have the year he had, he’s sort of the unsung captain of the hockey club, so to speak.”
Talbot was tasked with being the steady presence this club so desperately needed when he joined the team in the 2015 off-season. Gretzky says he’s definitely the right man for the job.
“He’s a little bit older and he’s been around a little bit and had some playoff experience,” Gretzky said of the former New York Rangers backup.
Talbot led all NHL goalies in starts (73) in his second full season with the Oilers (seven more than Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, who had the second-highest total). His 42 wins on the season had him tied atop the league with Washington’s Braden Holtby, and his seven regular-season shutouts ranks him in the top three.
“He’s extremely unselfish. You never see him point a finger at a guy, you never see him get upset at a defenceman if somebody misses the defensive coverage. He just grabs the pucks and throws it back out and says, ‘Let’s go,’” said Gretzky, who made his official return to the franchise when he was named partner and vice-chairman back in October. “It starts in net, I think, and he’s definitely the right guy for this team and he deserves all the credit and accolades he’s getting right now.”
This post-season, Talbot has registered a 2.17 goals against-average and .925 save percentage, with shutouts in two of his five victories so far.
“Our goaltending has been outstanding throughout, our team play has been really strong, and it’s just made it a lot of fun,” said Gretzky.
While the team’s high-speed, dynamic offence led by captain Connor McDavid has been the focal point of this season, Gretzky has also been impressed by Edmonton’s crew on the blue line.
“I’m amazed at the whole defensive core. I think [general manager] Peter Chiarelli has just done a tremendous job with the organization,” said Gretzky. “If you look at the four older veteran players, our defence with [Oscar] Klefbom, [Andrej] Sekera, [Adam] Larsson, and Kris Russell, I mean those four guys are just workhorses.
“And for the two young kids, Darnell [Nurse] and [Matt] Benning, to step in to play the minutes they’re playing and as well as they’re playing, and [Eric] Gryba who’s sort of the seventh defenceman,” he said. “They’re just a good core of kids that just love to play and they block shots and they don’t cheat the game, and they’re unselfish to each other.”
“They love playing in front of their goaltender and I can see their goaltender loves them in front of him,” said Gretzky. “As good as the team is, and it really is fun to watch, the defensive core, the six, seven guys, have really done an outstanding job over the last month of the season — well, quite frankly, all year long — but over the last month they’re just getting stronger and stronger as a group.”