Oilers reach West final, eager to add to storied legacy
EDMONTON, Alberta — The Edmonton Oilers have a rich history. Connor McDavid and Co. are eager to add another memorable chapter.
McDavid’s overtime goal Thursday night in Calgary clinched the first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years as the Oilers defeated the rival Flames 5-4 to move onto the Western Conference final.
The excitement level in Edmonton is already at a high level.
Edmonton won the Stanley Cup five times between 1984 and 1990 with teams led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri. The franchise made another final in 2006, but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games before missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons.
Despite a roster featuring McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers had advanced to the second round just once in the star forwards’ six previous campaigns — until now.
“We’re proud of the Hall of Fame people that have come through our organization,” interim head coach Jay Woodcroft said after eliminating the Flames. “We’re proud of the different runs that the team has gone on throughout the years.
But our team wants to contribute to that type of history,” he added. “Our team is looking to make its own mark.”
McDavid and Draisaitl lead the playoffs with a jaw-dropping 26 points each; McDavid had 12 against Calgary, Draisaitl an incredible 17 — in five games.
“We’ve had a lot of down moments,” Draisaitl said looking back. “A lot of moments where people were hard on us. We haven’t won yet. We’re only halfway, but it feels good to take that next step.”
Edmonton goalie Mike Smith outdueled Calgary counterpart and Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom, while McDavid and Draisaitl had a clear edge over the Flames’ best players, including Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Edmonton lost 9-6 to Calgary in a memorable Game 1, but then ripped off four straight wins by a combined 19-11 to clinch.
“They made it hard on us ... we had to push back twice as hard,” Draisaitl said. “But I think it shows our effort in our group, the type of guys that we have in our room, the resiliency to stick with it and get back to our game and take control.”
What was it like to take part in the first Battle of Alberta since Esa Tikkanen scored in overtime of Game 7 for the Oilers back in 1991?
“Special,” McDavid said. “The fans were amazing in both buildings — especially in Edmonton. The energy and vibe around the city has been amazing.”
That’s certain to continue with the Oilers and a fan base that’s endured plenty of lean years now just eight wins from the Cup.
“I’m sure the people at home are very excited,” Draisailt said. “But we’re only halfway. We’re very excited. We’re very happy, very proud of what we’ve achieved so far this post-season, but there’s more to be had for us. That’s our ultimate goal. Be proud of it — happy — but we’re getting ready for the next round.”