Some are calling the Edmonton Oilers’ recent 4-0 series loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the North Division Semi-Finals one of the closest sweeps in National Hockey League playoff history, and it just might be.
It also might not even be the closest sweep in Oilers’ franchise history. That honor could just as easily belong to the Dallas Stars 4-0 Western Conference Quarter-Finals victory over Edmonton in 1999. That loss to Dallas, which was the last time Edmonton had been swept before this postseason, is eerily reminiscent of what just happened to the Oilers in their shocking four-game defeat at the hands of the Jets.
So Close, Yet So Far
Given the numbers, it’s almost unfathomable Edmonton didn’t win at least one game against Winnipeg. The Oilers led for 20.1% (60:12) of the series compared to just 6.6% (19:52) for Winnipeg. The teams were tied for an incredible 73.3% (220:07), as the last three games of the series went to overtime, with Game 4 stretching into triple OT.
When scoring first, the Oilers were 23-3-1 in the regular season, but 0-2 in this series. When leading after two periods, Edmonton was 26-1-2 in the regular season, but 0-2 in this series. In two of the four games against Winnipeg, Edmonton never trailed during regulation. And yet, somehow, the Oilers lost them all.
Like 2021, the numbers from 1999 would suggest the Oilers won at least a couple of games, if not the entire series. Dallas held a slight edge in time with the lead, 23.5% (69:59) to 18.6% (55:21), but again, the teams spent the majority of the series, 57.9% (172:14) tied. All four contests were decided by one goal.
The Oilers scored the first goal in three of the games and led Dallas after two periods twice. They were either leading or tied with less than 10 minutes in regulation of all four games. And, again, like 2021, the Oilers battled intro triple overtime of Game 4 before finally bowing out.
There was 2:26 remaining in the third OT, when a shot from Sergei Zubov deflected off the heel of Joe Nieuwendyk and went past Edmonton’s Tommy Salo for a 3-2 Stars win, eliminating the Oilers and breaking the hearts of a sellout crowd around 17,000 (probably minus a few that had to get home and put the kids to bed – it was a school night, after all) at Skyreach Centre.
“I’m sure glad that it’s over. If sure feels like we played seven games.”Joe Nieuwendyk (From ‘Joe Nieuwendyk scores in 3OT for Dallas Stars win, series sweep’, Edmonton Journal, 04/28/99)
On Tuesday (May 25), just after 1 a.m. local time in an empty Bell MTS Place with a white towel on every seat, Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor scored off a partial breakaway at 6:52 of the sixth period, beating Oilers goalie Mike Smith with a wrist shot to give the host Jets a series-clinching 4-3 win.
The April 27, 1999, loss to Dallas is the longest game in Oilers history, while Game 4 against the Jets ranks third in length (Edmonton’s victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final is the second-longest, needing 55:13 of overtime to be settled).
The One Big Difference
In 1999, the Oilers were something of a Cinderella story by just reaching the playoffs. Set back by the loss of franchise netminder Curtis Joseph (signing as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs) in summer 1998, Edmonton had muddled through much of its 1998-99 schedule and was on the outside of the playoff picture with a week and a half remaining in the season.
But a late-season trade for Salo had stabilized Edmonton’s goaltending, and the Oilers ended the season going 5-0-1 to clinch the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. With the Oilers finishing 36 points back of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Stars, one of the biggest gaps ever between NHL playoff opponents, no one gave Edmonton a chance.
This time around, nearly every pundit picked Edmonton to beat the Jets, and with good reason: The Oilers owned the better regular-season record and had won the last six head-to-head meetings with Winnipeg. Edmonton boasted the league’s two leading point scorers (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) and top point-producing defenceman (Tyson Barrie). Coming out of a late-season tailspin that saw them lose seven straight at one point, the Jets seemed ripe for the picking, not poised to pull the upset.
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Oilers fans are still in a state of shock; some even angry that a team seemingly loaded with potential blew an opportunity at a long playoff run. The mood in Edmonton was much different in 1999. There was then, if anything, a sense of pride in the fight the impossibly outmatched Oilers had put up against Dallas.
As it would turn out, beating Edmonton 4-0 was Step One on the path to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history for Dallas. Winnipeg is certainly hoping that becomes one more similarity between the Oilers’ sweep defeats of 1999 and 2021.