EDMONTON – Doubled over in pain on the bench, it appeared Chris Tanev’s night was over.
Same could be said for his team earlier on, as it dug itself a 3-0 first period deficit few thought possible to climb out of.
Doubters clearly hadn’t seen a springtime Battle of Alberta, where anything and everything is possible, including a 132-foot snipe to tie it midway through the third.
These are the efforts, memories and the outcomes that make the provincial battle the stuff of legend.
There was Tanev, wincing in pain throughout the night as he played over 19 minutes of gutsy hockey, blocking shots and even adding an assist despite an upper body injury that kept him out of the previous four games.
There was Jacob Markstrom, mishandling a puck behind the net to give Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the easiest goal of his career a mere 21 seconds in, before bouncing back with a late pad save on Leon Draisaitl that set the stage for Rasmus Andersson’s fade-away slapper from behind his own blue line that found nothing but net.
The game’s ultimate drama played out with four minutes left when Nugent-Hopkins scored the winner, a dagger that put the Oilers up 3-1 in the series.
However, a remarkably upbeat Darryl Sutter suggested he’d seen enough good things to insist it didn’t quite pierce the heart.
“We hung around tonight and we’re not going to go away easy, and if they thought they were going to beat us easy that wasn’t the case,” said Sutter following the 5-3 loss.
“I like how we played. I know we’re in a hole, but it’s like saying we had to win on the road, now we have to win at home.”
They’ll do so as a much more confident group after a two-goal second period ended a six-period stretch in which they were outscored 11-1.
Goals by Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund 36 seconds apart midway through the game got the Flames within one, setting up Andersson’s shocking snipe as he sent the puck skyward to kill a penalty.
It beat a startled Mike Smith clean, glove side, prompting the fiery netminder to react with what appeared to be brief anger towards a defender, as he never saw the puck.
It silenced a stunned crowd that nervously watched the ensuing six minutes in relative silence, wondering if in fact the Flames would steal back home-ice advantage in dramatic fashion.
“I thought we showed a lot of resolve and resilience,” Sutter said.
“They scored that empty net (goal) in the first minute of the game, but I thought we had a really good first period and that’s what I told them after the first, that it was still a winnable game for us for sure tonight, and we damn near did.”
Make no mistake, this one stings.
Giving Connor McDavid three cracks at finishing off the Flames is daunting at best.
But Andersson and his teammates insist they’ll fight on, like Tanev.
“He’s a warrior,” said Andersson, who bent down to share a moment with the wounded defender as he struggled in pain on the bench.
“What can you say? There’s a reason why he’s a leader on our team and I think he showed that tonight. It’s never easy battling through injuries, especially with what he’s battling through too. He showed a lot of heart tonight. All the guys on the bench, you know, we saw that. We tried playing for him as well.”
Only minutes before the game was it confirmed Tanev would play.
“He’s wanted to play the last two games, and it was just at the point where it was up to him and the medical staff and that was it,” said Sutter.
After being completely outplayed in Game 3, Andersson said his group played its best game of the series Tuesday, despite digging a three-goal hole that wiped out the boost Tanev’s return should have had.
And yet, one of the strangest goals in the battle’s lore gave them a chance to even the series.
“Honestly, as soon as I shot it I kind of saw it went towards the net and I saw that he didn’t see it,” said Andersson.
“I was thinking to myself real quick, ‘oh this might go in’ and it went in. It was a game of bounces both ways. They got a lucky one and we got a lucky one. Overall, I thought we played well enough to win tonight.”
Sutter also claimed he called The Shot.
“It’s funny, when that shot was taken, I said, ‘I think that puck can go in the net,’ and it did,” said Sutter, who was asked if he’d ever seen a goal like that before
“I can’t remember, probably in Chicago Stadium through the smoke or something.”
The smoke was coming out of Smith’s mask, before joking after the game, “I can laugh about it now, right?”
Indeed, he can, as the Oilers have the favoured Flames on the brink of elimination despite seeing McDavid “limited” to just two points.
We jest, sort of.
Fact is, he wasn’t able to run roughshod over the Flames as he’d done the previous three games, instead relying on two more goals from Evander Kane, two from Nugent-Hopkins and another from Zach Hyman.
“There’s a reason why we play seven,” said Backlund, insisting this series isn’t over.
“That quote has been said a lot this playoff, but that’s the truth. We know we played well today. I think the game could have gone either way.
“We know we’re really strong at home and we have to start with that one game.”