EDMONTON — They haven’t enjoyed a season like this in Edmonton since the Glory Days, and we all know how five of those seasons ended.
Now, for these current Oilers, it’s time for a post-season that matches with what all those Hall of Famers did back in the day. And it will start with a Round 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Kings, last year’s first-round foe that took Edmonton to a thrilling seventh game.
L.A. plays Edmonton hard, presenting a low-scoring, defensive game that requires a patient approach from their opponent. That is something that former Oilers teams struggled with, but a game this team has finally learned to play, beating the Kings at their own game in their last two meetings.
What sets this Oilers team apart from the last few hopeful playoff editions?
“I would say (we’re) more much more mature,” said Connor McDavid. “We’ve been there. We’ve taken it a step further now, with last year, and those are all learning experiences … that you need to put into good use now.”
The winner of Kings-Oilers will advance against whomever emerges from Vegas vs. Winnipeg, as the Pacific Division cleared up its playoff picture only on the final game of the final night of its season, when the Golden Knights walked into Seattle and claimed a 3-1 win in regulation.
After a trip to the Western Conference Final a year ago, Edmonton put a season together that leaves one wondering if they’ve finally got what it takes to get back to a Stanley Cup Final that was once a rite of spring here in Oil Country.
With a cozy 5-2 win over San Jose in Game 82 Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers finished their season on a franchise record-tying nine-game winning streak, a 14-0-1 tear, and became the first Oilers club to win 50 games in a season since the 1987 Stanley Cup champions.
They posted the best power play in NHL history at 32.4 per cent, while McDavid led the league in goals (64), assists (89) and points (153), laying claim to his first Rocket Richard Trophy and his third-consecutive Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top point-getter.
Of course, he is playoff-focused and averse to blowing his own horn, even after setting new personal bests in goals, assists and points.
“That’s the regular season. Now’s the time to really play,” McDavid said, who has become a pretty good quote when he’s not asked to talk about himself. “It was a good regular season — individually and for the team — but now’s the fun time.”
As a team, Edmonton reeled off 29 wins in the final 40 games of this season, something never done before in Edmonton. In goal, Stuart Skinner’s 29 wins is a new mark for an Oilers rookie goalie, besting the record set by Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr back in 1981-82.
“Growing up in Edmonton, all you heard about was how fantastic a goalie Grant Fuhr was,” beamed Skinner. “The competitor — he’s a Hall of Fame goalie. One of the best to ever play the game. (It’s) a really cool moment.”
Only four other Oilers team — all in the early 80s — can claim seasons of 109 points or more.
“Yeah,” began head coach Jay Woodcroft when asked about the stats. “those are nice, but that’s done. That’s in the rear view mirror.
“The way we get better is continuing to do hard things in pressure moments. That’s what the playoffs is all about,” he added. “It’s finding a way to be at your best when the other team is at their best, and whoever does it harder longer is usually the team that wins.”
Edmonton went 2-2 against the Kings this season, but won the last two — on March 30 and April 4 — by scores of 2-0 and 3-1. They have found ways to win games that McDavid or Leon Draisaitl do not win for them — like Tuesday in Colorado, when both Edmonton goals came from defencemen.
Or Thursday, when Mattias Janmark scored twice and Evan Bouchard added one in the 5-2 win.
“Everybody’s been playing well. Everybody,” McDavid said. “Everybody up and down the lineup has been has been solid.”
The playoffs are about finding a new hero every night, and as this season ends, the Oilers have a pair of 50-goal men up top, four 30-goal scorers all told, and 13 different 10-goal scorers scattered through their lineup — perhaps most importantly of all.
“Where we’re about to get to, you need contributions from everybody,” Woodcroft said. “Sometimes the best players on both teams saw each other off and you’re looking for a little bit of production elsewhere. We have a lot of guys that can score given the opportunity.”