After 11 years of torture, the Edmonton Oilers and their fans can finally relish in the team’s first playoff series win in over a decade. Mission accomplished for Connor McDavid company. On Saturday, the Oilers rode the momentum of a strong opening 40 minutes to rid themselves of the San Jose Sharks in six games with a 3-1 victory.
Bring on the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Anaheim Ducks. Sound familiar? It should. For a whole new generation of Oilers fans, playoff victory may be unfamiliar territory. But it’s nothing new for a franchise that is mostly guaranteed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Historically, the Edmonton Oilers are lethal in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 37 NHL seasons, the Oilers have made it to the postseason 21 times and are now a remarkable 14-7 in the opening round. The Oilers almost always find a way to eliminate the first teams they face over 65 percent of the time. And when it comes to closing out a series in Game 6 of any round, the Oilers are a scary 8-3, good for a .727 winning percentage. History is definitely on the side of the Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Underdog Oilers Still Advance to Second Round
Certainly, the statistics lean in the Oilers’ favour due to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the dynasty years. The Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years and made it past at least the first round 10 times over 12 seasons through the 1980s and ’90s. But even when the Oilers have been perceived as extreme underdogs, the team has still managed to find a way to rid themselves of some colossal opponents. Who can forget Todd Marchant and his magical double overtime winner against the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the 1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals?
A year later, most of the same Oilers got redemption against a formidable Colorado Avalanche team that was only two years removed from its first Stanley Cup. The 1997-98 Oilers qualified for the playoffs as a below-.500 team. Surprisingly, they eliminated the Pacific Division Champions in another exciting seven-game opening round series.
2005-06: Oilers Upset Elite Red Wings
The overachieving 2005-06 Oilers proved to the hockey world that you can never judge a team’s playoff chances by looking at the regular-season standings. The Oilers barely qualified for the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the last week of the season. They finished with 95 points—three points more than the Vancouver Canucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Detroit Red Wings, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy with 124 points in the 2005-06 regular season, expected to dispose of the Oilers easily in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. In fact, the Red Wings organization was so confident they’d move on to the second round that they advertised tickets for the Western Conference Semifinals before the series was even decided. Detroit’s overconfidence turned out to be severely premature. The Oilers took 2-1 and 3-2 series leads and ousted Steve Yzerman and the rest of the aging Red Wings with a spectacular come-from-behind victory in front of a raucous hometown crowd in Game 6.
Calgary Flames Abysmal in First Rounds
For the purpose of comparison, the Calgary Flames have not fared as well as the Oilers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since their inaugural season as the Atlanta Flames in 1972-73, the Flames have made a total of 28 postseason appearances, only to bow out of the first round a whopping 21 times.
The Atlanta Flames were extinguished in six preliminary rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1974 to 1980. But even if we disregard the Atlanta Flames’ early exits from the playoffs, the Calgary Flames’ winning percentage in the first round is still an awful .318.
To be fair, the Flames almost always had to attempt to get through all those strong Oilers teams of the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Flames’ first-round ineptitude continued through all those playoff-less years for the Oilers. Now the Oilers are back with a vengeance, and the Ducks have swept the Flames out of the first round.
Second Round More Challenging For Oilers
It only gets harder the deeper a team advances in the playoffs. Out of 13 first-round victories for the Oilers before this season, the team has advanced past the second round a total of nine times, including seven Stanley Cup Final appearances. Interestingly enough, the Oilers’ winning percentage slightly increases in the second round of the playoffs.
But Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks present a new and more difficult challenge for the Oilers. The Ducks are not as banged up as the Sharks. Plus, the Ducks will be well rested and ready to go for Game 1 on Wednesday at the Honda Center after a short four-game series against the Flames.
For a team that finished just two points behind the Ducks in the race for the Pacific division championship, the Oilers hope history remains on their side in a second-round clash that is sure to be one for the ages. Buckle up for the ride. This is going to be a good one.
Evan is a down-to-earth freelance journalist and writer, who fondly recalls brushing shoulders with Connor McDavid. He is a journalism graduate of MacEwan University and has been writing about hockey since 2013.