They’re the greatest two words in sports, and for the first time in more than three decades, Game 7 is going to be on the marquee in Oil Country. Saturday (May 14) night at Rogers Place, the Edmonton Oilers are hosting the Los Angeles Kings in the finale their best-of-seven, first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series. The deciding game of this back-and-forth series will be the team’s first Game 7 in Edmonton since 1990, when they defeated the Winnipeg Jets at Northlands Coliseum to win their Smythe Division Semi-Final.
Edmonton has played in a Game 7 on 10 prior occasions, going 6-4 overall and 3-1 at home. The Oilers have dropped their last two Game 7’s, most recently to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Semi-Final in 2017, but have won four straight Game 7’s in the first round of the postseason. They’ve even faced the Kings in a Game 7, losing in Los Angeles in the Smythe Division Semi-Final in 1989.
Some of the defining moments in Oilers franchise history have occurred in a seventh and deciding game. Here’s a look at Edmonton’s five most memorable Game 7’s.
1986 Smythe Division Final vs. Calgary Flames
For all the incredible success of the Oilers during their 1980s dynasty years, it’s the time everything went so terribly wrong that is forever burned into Edmonton’s soul. The 1985-86 Oilers were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup titles and seemed destined to complete the hat trick. They swept the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round, but drew a much tougher matchup in the division final against their hated provincial rival.
Game 7 at Northlands Coliseum was tied 2-2 early in the third period, when defenceman Steve Smith, on his 23rd birthday, put the puck in his own net off goalie Grant Fuhr. Flames forward Perry Berezan was credited with the goal, which would ultimately prove the series’ winner: the Oilers couldn’t find the equalizer over the game’s remaining minutes, and Smith, who was benched after his gaffe, was in tears when the final horn sounded.
This was the only series the Oilers lost from 1984 to 1988, preventing what could have been a run of five consecutive Stanley Cups. The story ends happily, however. Smith ended up winning championships with the Oilers, and even became an All-Star in 1991.
1997 Western Conference Quarter-Final vs. Dallas Stars
Spring 1997 marked the Oilers’ return to the postseason after Edmonton had missed the previous four years while enduring a difficult post-dynasty rebuild in a new reality that was not kind to smaller market Canadian franchises. Against the powerful Stars, not much was expected of a young Edmonton squad that was basically playing with house money when the puck dropped for Game 7 at Reunion Arena in Dallas.
The Stars held leads of 1-0 and 3-2 but couldn’t shake the Oilers, who battled back to force overtime, tied 3-3. Just past the midway point of the first overtime period, Edmonton goalie Curtis Joseph made a stunning save on future Hall-of-Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. Moments later, a streaking Todd Marchant fired the puck past Stars netminder Andy Moog to end the series. Bob Cole’s iconic call of the winning goal (“Here’s Marchant, Scores! Marchant!”) can still be recited by a generation of Oilers’ fans.
1991 Smythe Division Semi-Final vs. Calgary Flames
Edmonton’s 1991 postseason series against Calgary marked the Oilers’ third consecutive year of going to a seventh game in the first round. They had blown a 3-1 lead against the Kings in 1989, rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Jets in 1990, and now were deadlocked 3-3 against the Flames, having lost two straight after taking a 3-1 series lead.
Matters got worse in the early stages of Game 7 at the Calgary Saddledome, where the home team jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead. Then, Esa Tikkanen took over. In what is the signature performance of the inimitable Finn’s career, Tikkanen scored twice and set up another goal as Edmonton rallied to even things up 3-3 midway through the second period. The teams traded third-period goals, necessitating overtime with the score knotted at 4-4.
Just short of seven minutes into sudden death, Tikkanen picked up the puck in the Flames’ zone, circled back at center ice, and accelerated forward, skating past and around Flames defenders before scoring on Calgary netminder Mike Vernon for his hat-trick tally and series-clincher.
The stunned silence inside the Saddledome was reminiscent of that at Northlands five years earlier. The Oilers and Flames haven’t met the playoffs since, although that could change in just a couple days. Should the Oilers defeat the Kings and Calgary top Dallas in its Game 7 matchup Sunday (May 15), the Alberta teams will meet in Round 2.
1987 Stanley Cup Final vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The only thing that can top a Game 7 is Game 7 for all the marbles, which is exactly what was on the line when the Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers squared off in the seventh and deciding game of the 1987 Stanley Cup Final at Northlands Coliseum. In what was the second time in three years that these teams met in the championship series, the Flyers had battled back from 3-1 with a pair of wins to force a seventh game in Edmonton. A sellout crowd was equal parts nervous and excited, the anticipation of a third Stanley Cup for their heroes tempered by flashbacks to the catastrophe of ’86.
Imagine the mood, then, when Flyers forward Murray Craven scored just 101 seconds into the game to give Philly an early 1-0 advantage. But that’s when the Oilers dug their heels in, saying enough is enough.
Mark Messier tallied at 7:45 of the first period to make it 1-1, Jari Kurri scored in the second period to put Edmonton ahead, and Glenn Anderson’s insurance goal at 17:36 of the third period finally allowed the Northlands faithful to breathe a bit easy. The party began as the seconds ticked away on Edmonton’s 3-1 victory.
2006 Stanley Cup Final vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Game 7 of the 2006 Cup Final wasn’t the greatest hockey game ever played, and it’s a rather painful memory for Oilers fans. However, it’s also one that will never be forgotten, given the sheer magnitude of a one-game, winner-take-all battle for hockey’s holy grail.
The underdog Oilers were coming off wins in Games 5 and 6 to get the series to a seventh game, at the RBC Center in Raleigh. Carolina’s Aaron Ward opened the scoring at 1:26 of the first period, and Hurricanes defenseman Frantisek Kaberle added to his team’s lead with a power-play marker early in the second. Edmonton got one back when Fernando Pisani scored early in the third period, but Justin Williams’ empty-net goal with just over a minute to play secured a 3-1 Cup-clinching victory for the ‘Canes.
That was the last time the Oilers have played for the Stanley Cup. In fact, it’s the last time they’ve gotten anywhere close to it: Edmonton has won only one playoff series in the 15 seasons since. There are hopes of a run deep into the 2022 postseason, all which now hinge on Game 7 vs. the Kings. Win or lose, it will surely be memorable.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.