The Amazing Edmonton Oilers

Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons made a very good point in his column recently.  He said the four teams still in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs – the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers – all have one thing in common:  none of them made the post-season in 2004, the last full season before the unnecessary and highly destructive lock-out.  (For the record, in the Eastern Conference that year, Buffalo and Carolina finished 9th and 11th, respectively (This year, Carolina was 2nd and Buffalo was 4th.) and, in the Western Conference, Anaheim and Edmonton ended up 12th and 9th, respectively.  (This year, Anaheim landed in 6th and Edmonton barely made the post-season by finishing 8th.))
 
As we all know, the rule changes in the NHL have dramatically changed things.  Teams that had great seasons in 2003-04 like the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues had their fortunes reversed dramatically 2 years later.  (For example, the Blues went from a respectable 91-point season to an astonishingly bad 57-point season.)
 
Many factors have come into play.  The ridiculous salary cap, players moving around all over the place and, of course, those rule changes.  All of these things, without question, have benefited the Edmonton Oilers, the only Canadian team still in the hunt for the Cup.
 
I’ve been a fan since the 1983 playoffs when the team, led by Gretzky and Messier, got beat by the unstoppable New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final that year.  The following year the Oilers got their revenge by winning their first trophy and denying the Islanders the chance to become Stanley Cup Champions 5 times in a row.  (These days, it’s hard to win it twice, let alone 5 times.)
 
I’ve stuck with the team for 23 years now.  I’ve seen the highs (all 5 Stanley Cup victories, the last of which was the sweetest because 1. it didn’t involve Gretzky and 2. I predicted it would happen even before the first game of the regular season in 1989-90.  I haven’t made such a crazy prediction since then.  Better to quit undefeated.) and the lows (Gretzky’s trade, the dismantling of the team, the failure to make the playoffs from time to time and the early exits from the post-season.) 
 
I should also mention that I also rooted for another Canadian team, the much-missed Quebec Nordiques.  One year, both the Nords and the Oilers were in the third round of the playoffs.  How odd would it have been for me to have both my favourites battling for the Cup?  Sadly, it never happened.  Quebec got beat by Philadelphia and the Oilers beat the Flyers to win the Cup that year.  When the team moved to Colorado in the mid-90s, my loyalty died.  I’ll stick with the Oilers unless they get moved, too.
 
This season I managed to watch about a quarter of the Oiler regular season games on CBC and TSN.  I’ve been very happy with the deals management made in the off-season and especially, during the trade deadline back in March.  One wonders how well the Oilers would’ve played in the last 2 months were it not for the acquisition of Rollie The Goalie.  He’s been spectacular.
 
When the regular season was over, I was relieved the Oilers edged out the Vancouver Canucks.  I was equally pleased that the Dallas Stars finished 2nd, meaning we would be playing the number one team, the Detroit Red Wings (who had the best regular season record), in the first round.  (The Oilers have only beaten the Stars once in the playoffs.)   I never thought my guys would beat them so I was astonished and excited that it took 6 games to do it.  It was a dreadfully boring series, though.  If you substituted the players with tortoises, no one would know the difference.  Still, it was nice to know this particular Edmonton squad is scrappy, full of heart, possesses underappreciated talent and a never-say-never attitude.  It has bode well for them, so far.
 
When I learned we would playing the San Jose Sharks in round 2 I never thought we had a chance against them.  Joe Thornton, who was foolishly traded by the deeply troubled Boston Bruins, whipped the Sharks into shape and they made mincemeat out of the Nashville Predators in their first round series.  After dropping the first two games against San Jose, I was worried my prediction of another early exit was about to become true.  The turning point of the series had to be game 3 which ended with a triple overtime victory for the Oilers.  Had we lost that game, this would’ve been a very different series and, I suspect, San Jose would be playing the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the Conference Final and not us.  That series reminded me a lot of the Montreal-Carolina match-up in round one.  Montreal won the first two games and when game 3 went into overtime, a third win for the Habs (my dad’s team) would’ve assured them a stranglehold on the Canes.  But Carolina squeaked out a win and never lost a game after that.  The same thing happened to the Oilers.
 
Without question, it was the best series of the second round.  Sure, there were lulls in the action but there were big hits, amazing goals, terrific goaltending and genuine suspense as to who was going to come out on top.  The fact the Oilers are in the Conference Final ready to battle Anaheim in game 1 tomorrow night is fantastic.  I forgot that they last were in the Conference Final in 1992, a series they lost.  That’s how long it’s been since this team has come close to making yet another appearance in the final.  Here’s hoping things work out better for Edmonton this time around.
 
The Oilers are the only team left in the playoffs who have actually won the Stanley Cup.  The remaining teams have all been in the final at least once in the last ten years.  (Buffalo, my uncle’s team, were also in the finals against Philadelphia in the mid-70s.)  There’s a very good chance that an expansion team will win the Cup for the first time.  I avoided posting my predictions for the earlier rounds (which turned out to be a good thing since I got so many of them wrong).  But this time, I’m going to take a chance.
 
I think Buffalo will take Carolina and make their first appearance in the Final since the controversial late-90s series against Dallas.  (Remember Brett Hull’s controversial Cup-winning, foot-in-the-crease goal?)  They’ve got great goaltending in Miller who’s been steady against both Philadelphia and Ottawa and they may be the fastest team on the ice right now.  I think it will be a tough series so, let’s say Buffalo will win in six games.
 
As for the Oilers, I’ve counted them out time and time again and I have to do it again because Anaheim are playing like they did in 2003 when they ended up in the Final against New Jersey.  This one is going to be difficult for them.  It will most definitely be a battle of the goalies and I think, a very entertaining series.  I will be rooting for my Oilers every step of the way but Anaheim has so much momentum going for them that they will win in seven games.  I hope I’m wrong.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, May 18, 2006
4:25 p.m.
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Published in: on May 18, 2006 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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