The Edmonton Oilers might be one of the most resilient teams left in this year’s NHL Playoffs. In the 2021-22 NHL season, they overcame injuries, COVID-19, a mid-season coaching change and a tsunami of negativity from critics, fans and the media just to make the playoffs. Now, they have advanced to the second round after beating the LA Kings in Game 7 of their first round Western Conference playoff series.
The first round seemed like a bit of a microcosm of the regular season, with injuries, suspensions, and defensive lapses, but now the Oilers get a reset for the second round. That means players such as Warren Foegele and Jesse Puljujärvi get a second chance to prove their worth. It also means Leon Draisaitl gets an extra day or so to rest the injury he suffered in Game 6 against the Kings.
The Only Person Happier Than McDavid Right Now Might Be Oilers GM Ken Holland
When Connor McDavid decided to take it upon himself to take over the Oilers/Kings series in Games 6 and 7, you could tell there was a sense of urgency in his game. This sense only comes from being fed up with losing and the narrative that losing brings to a franchise.
When McDavid scored his incredible second goal in the final minutes of Game 7 against the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, the second most relieved and even jubilant person in Rogers Place next to McDavid was probably Oilers general manager Ken Holland. During this rollercoaster 21-22 NHL season, Holland was the one who took the most criticism for the team’s inability to rise to the top of the NHL standings. He was criticized for trading for Duncan Keith and retaining his full salary. He was openly called out for his handling of his goaltenders, especially when veteran Mike Smith returned from injury and got off to a slow start late in the season. He was even criticized by some for signing Cody Ceci as a replacement for Adam Larsson, who signed with the Seattle Kraken.
Holland deserves some credit for the moves he made and those he didn’t. He was patient with the goaltenders, and Smith rewarded Holland with a strong performance in the Oilers’ first-round playoff victory. He also signed controversial winger Evander Kane in late January and picked up defenceman Brett Kulak at the trade deadline in March, and these two moves alone have paid off brilliantly for the Oilers.
The Oilers Will Be Ready for Second Round
As the Oilers get ready to face the winner of the Calgary Flames/Dallas Stars series, their focus will be on continuing to play at an elevated level, especially in their own zone. They proved they could play solid defence and cut down on the shots on goal late in the series against the Kings, but they will be facing an even tougher opponent in the second round.
After getting off to such a great start to the season and then falling off the face of the earth in November and December due to injuries to key players such as Darnell Nurse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Keith and Smith, the Oilers seem to have an inner resolve, one that this version of the team hasn’t shown before. You only earn that resolve after going through adversity and coming out the other side, kind of like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption crawling through a pipeline of crap, only to emerge victorious.
The will to win is what helped McDavid take his game to a never seen level, and the rest of the team is following his lead. After facing more than their fair share of adversity in the regular season and in the first-round playoff series against the Kings, you get the feeling this could be a team of destiny.
When the Minnesota Wild lost their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, that might’ve opened the door for the Oilers to have an even better chance to win the Western Conference. That’s getting a bit ahead of things right now, but the Wild did seem to have the Oilers’ number more than any other Western Conference team this season, and having the Wild eliminated only helps clear the road a little bit more for the Oilers.
Beating the Kings in the First Round Was Huge for This Group
The Oilers have gone through different phases over their 43-year history. There were the glory years of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and winning five Stanley Cups from 1984 to 1990. There were the teams led by Doug Weight and Curtis Joseph in the mid to late 90s that were the inspiring underdogs. The 2006 Stanley Cup finalist Oilers team led by Chris Pronger and Dwayne Roloson captured the fans’ imagination. And now, the current team led by McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse seems to have a new set of magic for a new generation of Oilers fans.
Coming back and beating the Kings after being down three games to two in their first-round series is exactly what this version of the Oilers needed. Like Neo in The Matrix, they are starting to believe, and despite all the adversity they’ve faced this season, the Oilers could be taking an entire fanbase with them deep into the playoffs.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.