The Edmonton Oilers have a rich history.
This iteration wants to add another memorable chapter.
Connor McDavid’s overtime goal Thursday clinched the first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years as the Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames 5-4 to move onto the Western Conference final.
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.
And 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 this spring.
Now they’re dreaming of returning hockey’s holy grail to the Alberta capital.
“We’re proud of the Hall of Fame people that have come through our organization,” Oilers 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.
“Our team is looking to make its own mark.”
McDavid and Draisaitl lead the playoffs with a jaw-dropping 26 points each. The former put up 12 against Calgary, while the latter bagged an outrageous 17.
“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 now awaits the winner of the Western Conference’s other second-round series between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. The Avalanche lead that matchup 3-2 with Game 6 set for Friday in St. Louis.
“It was an important moment for our team,” Woodcroft said of McDavid’s Game 5 heroics. “We’re going to enjoy this.”
The Oilers last made the third round of the playoffs 16 years ago when they defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 4-1 before losing the Cup final to Carolina.
Edmonton, which defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in the opening round earlier this month, lost 9-6 to Calgary in Game 1, but then ripped off four straight wins by a combined 19-11 scoreline to clinch.
“Lots of swings,” McDavid said. “Just hung in there all series and found a way.
“That was really the moral of the whole series.”
The Flames topped the Pacific Division in the regular season — seven points clear of the second-place Oilers — but were unable to match the play of their provincial rivals.
Edmonton goalie Mike Smith outduelled 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.
“They made it hard on us … we had to push back twice as hard,” Draisaitl said. “It was a great battle.
“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.”
So 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.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.