Connor McDavid and the Oilers Flip the Script as Edmonton Returns to Conference Final

It’s an annual thing for the hockey-writing types.

The Edmonton Oilers post-mortem.

At some point every spring, usually right around now, nimble fingers set keyboards ablaze in search of the perfect words to sum up abject disappointment.

Another season in the tank.

One step closer to the end of what should be a great era in franchise history that’s instead begun climbing the ladder of biggest flops in NHL history.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. With scores of trophies and plaudits between them, they’re commonly mentioned among the most productive players the league has seen.

And what have they got to show for it? Nothing.

It’s an easy column to write. Because the source material seems endless.

Scribes of all shapes and sizes were getting a head start last Thursday when J.T. Miller’s last-minute dagger ended Game 5 and pushed 97, 29 and their crew of motley teammates to the brink of another premature locker purge.

EDMONTON, CANADA - MAY 18: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers takes a shot against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period of Game Six in the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on May 18, 2024 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

But a funny thing happened on the way to this year’s funeral.

Rather than bemoaning cursed fate and folding their blue-and-orange tents, the Oilers showed some new colors. Gritty, determined, rugged colors.

In place of Peter Max’s pop psychedelia, think of Van Gogh’s “Shoes.”

And instead of a busted Cup run, make way for a McDavid masterpiece.


Though the Dallas Stars in the West and either the New York Rangers or Florida Panthers back East will suggest otherwise, it’s hard to argue that clearing the Vancouver hurdle provides the three-time MVP and five-time scoring champion with his clearest path to a title since Edmonton made him the top pick in a paradigm-shifting 2015 draft.

Mainly because of the way it was done.

Though a 5-1 score in a must-win Game 6 reeked of video game dominance, it was the residue of a workmanlike effort in which the Oilers outhit the Canucks by 11 (49-38), snuffed four power plays—including a five-on-three early in the third period—and scored each of their own goals at even strength.

The trend continued through Monday’s Game 7, when Edmonton peppered Arturs Silovs early, killed a four-minute power play to end the first, and worked its low-danger defensive set while getting just enough offense to win.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 20: Zach Hyman #18 celebrates Evan Bouchard #2 of the Edmonton Oilers goal during the second period in Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on May 20, 2024 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Blue-liner Cody Ceci and blue-collar forward Zach Hyman were among the heroes, each scoring at even strength in a three-goal second period in which the Oilers also blocked nine shots and delivered six hits.

No longer are the stars writing checks that the depth players can’t cash.

“We hung in there. I was very proud of the group,” McDavid told Sportsnet after Game 7. “We defended well. We played two really great defensive games. I’m really proud of our game.”

The payoff is McDavid’s second career final-four try, which he and the Oilers will begin with Games 1 and 2 at Dallas before the Stars head to northern Alberta next week.

The teams played three times in the regular season with Dallas winning a 4-3 nod at Edmonton as the Jay Woodcroft administration wound down, then splitting the final two meetings—a 4-3 OT win for the Oilers in February and a 5-0 rout for the Stars in April.

Remember, Vancouver was 4-0 against Edmonton with a 21-7 scoring split in the regular season, but scored just 20 times in the seven-game loss.

Perhaps the law of averages will even out, too, given Edmonton’s edges in shots in two of the games with Dallas and a paltry 1-of-12 for a power play that’s been working at lights-out efficiency for most of the postseason.

Dallas was just 64.3 percent effective in short-handed situations against Colorado, the worst of any team in a second-round series. And its 69.2 percent rate for the entire playoffs is 13th of the 16 teams that qualified and worst of any team still playing.

Edmonton, meanwhile, has scored on a league-best 37.5 percent of its opportunities through two rounds, and its 91.4 percent kill rate is also best in the postseason.

VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 20: Edmonton Oilers right wing Connor Brown (28) and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Carson Soucy (7) shown having a scuffle during Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on May 20, 2024, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo by Jamie Douglas/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jamie Douglas/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The grimy Oilers are getting to the hard areas, winning the 50/50 battles, and making smart decisions.

And it’s not as if the Stars have looked impenetrable overall either.

They were forced to go seven games to eliminate Vegas in Round 1 after losing the first two at home, and then dropped the home opener again in Round 2 against the Avalanche before rallying to finish things off in a double-OT sixth game.

Those optics make it a more winnable proposition than McDavid and Co.’s last visit to the Western final when they faced a Colorado juggernaut that had gone 8-2 through two series while sweeping Nashville and dusting St. Louis off in six.

The Avalanche won that series in four straight on the way to a Cup, though the Oilers were close in Games 1 and 3 before surrendering empty-netters and the decisive fourth went to OT before Artturi Lehkonen beat Mike Smith after Edmonton blew a two-goal lead with 12 minutes left in regulation.

Those Oilers weren’t ready.

These Oilers aren’t backing down.

And with an artist like McDavid finally playing meaningful games, there’s no telling how vibrant his colors might get.

Enjoy the show.

Related Articles

Back to top button