CALGARY — This was pure magic.
In a 3-2 league that tends to level out its superstars as the playoffs whittle down to intensely defensive 2-1 games, this five-game Battle of Alberta gave us 45 goals and a stunning finish by the superstar of all superstars.
Connor McDavid crafted his only point of the night on an overtime snipe, rifling the winner in off Jacob Markstrom’s left post, a goal that ended the first Calgary-Edmonton series in 31 years in epic fashion on Thursday.
“Just happy to contribute on a night where I maybe didn’t have my best,” said McDavid, who had seven straight multi-point games before going pointless prior to overtime in Game 5.
“Hard to put into words what that one meant to me,” added McDavid, who goes on to Round 3 for the first time in his NHL career. “Special — special to win. It was real fun, and the fans were amazing in both buildings, especially in Edmonton. Just the energy and the vibe around the city has been amazing.”
This game was sloppily played, featuring average to poor goaltending at both ends. Of course, all that meant was another full-tilt night in the Battle of Alberta, one that gave us yet another NHL playoff record when the teams scored four goals in a 71-second span in the second period.
It was a series that pumped new lore into an old rivalry, with a 132-foot goal in Game 4, a 17-point performance by Draisaitl, an average game score of 5-4 (which happened to be Thursday’s tally) and an opener where the teams shared 15 goals — ironically the only win of the series for a Calgary team that was supposed to be able to shut the Oilers down.
This series took us back to the ‘80s, clocking in as the fifth highest scoring five-game series in NHL history. Now, Edmonton awaits the winner of Colorado and St. Louis, with most fans hoping for a showdown between McDavid, Makar and MacKinnon.
What a McSeries it would be.
“It’s a great feeling,” Draisaitl said of this trip to Round 3. “But we’re only halfway. We’re very excited, very happy with what we’ve achieved so far … but there’s more to be had for us. That’s our ultimate goal. We celebrate this for a day, tonight maybe, be proud of it, happy.
“But we’re getting ready for the next round.”
Draisaitl’s 17 points were the third-most in a playoff series in NHL history, behind Wayne Gretzky (18) and Rick Middleton (19) in 1983. But Draisaitl only played five games — counting three points in three of them and four in the other two.
Fittingly, he made the play on the winner before getting “snot bubbled” an eye-blink after feeding McDavid. Watch the replay: Johnny Gaudreau cheated on Draisaitl, giving him an uncontested puck that he slickly moved to McDavid, who wired home the winner an eyelash before Matt Tkachuk closed the gap on him.
You can sum up the difference in this series on that one play: Edmonton’s two leaders took a huge hit and delivered a massive goal, while Calgary’s two top guys made a soft play (Gaudreau) and weren’t attentive enough on the game’s best player while he cruised the slot in OT.
Edmonton’s best players were the best players in this series, while Calgary’s best players — starting with Markstrom (5.12 GAA, .852 saves percentage) — came up small. Gaudreau had six points in the series. Five Oilers had that many or more, while Draisaitl had three more points than the entire Flames first line combined.
And don’t forget the 40-year-old goalie.
When the series started, the word in Cowtown was, “When the Flames throw the same chances at Mike Smith as we did at Dallas’ Jake Oettinger, old Schmitty won’t have a chance.”
Well, Smith wasn’t perfect, but his series numbers — .907, and 3.40 — were better than the Vezina candidate Markstrom. Far better.
The team whose stars are the better stars, whose goalie is the better goalie, wins the series every time. This one was wildly entertaining, but it was a five-game rout where the better team is the one moving on.
Now the question becomes, how far can they go?
“We’re proud of our history,” began head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We’re proud of the Hall of Fame people that have come through our organization. We’re proud of the different runs that the team has gone on throughout the years.
“But our team wants to contribute to that history. Our team is looking to make its own mark.”
Give the first-time head coach some credit. He pushed more of the right buttons than the sage Darryl Sutter in this series, and got more hockey out of more people. We’re not saying he out-coached Sutter, but his team was the better team.
The fact that the Flames never found the stout defensive game that got them here — or that the best five-on-five line in the NHL this season got caved in by Edmonton’s top line — speaks to a coach who deployed his players the right way.
Even that coach, however, didn’t see a 45-goal, five-game series when he started breaking down film after defeating the L.A. Kings in Round 1.
“I didn’t see that, especially with the way that Calgary defended throughout the season,” admitted Woodcroft. “I certainly didn’t see us giving up nine goals in the first game — that didn’t go according to plan.
“But we always felt that we had the ability to score for us. And as the series went on, we got better at that. Tonight wasn’t our finest hour in terms of defending, but you talk about 20 men digging in for each other and finding a way in less than perfect circumstances, I think tonight was the best example of that.”
Edmonton moves on, Calgary goes home, and we all leave Calgary thinking the same thing.
I hope they play again next spring.