The Edmonton Oilers’ exciting come-from-behind 3-2 win in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Monday will go down as one in the win column, and two in the points column, but it is more than that. Coming on the heels of Edmonton’s 4-3 OT loss in Toronto on Saturday, it is a statement.
Not only is Toronto an opponent the Oilers will likely have to go through if they plan on making an extended National Hockey League playoff run in 2021, but the Leafs are also a team that’s had Edmonton’s number this season. So If there is one key takeaway from this two-game series in which both teams picked up three points, it’s that Edmonton can hang with the North Division-leading Leafs.
On Monday, Edmonton rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit, and the red-hot Darnell Nurse scored just 17 seconds into three-on-three, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl drawing assists. The win pulls the Oilers (45 points) to within two points of Toronto (47 points), with 20 games left on Edmonton’s schedule. The Winnipeg Jets (46 points) are second in the North Division, one point hack of the Leafs and one point ahead of the Oilers.
Coming into the game, the Oilers were a combined 19-8-0 against all other teams in the division but just 2-5-1 against the Leafs. Edmonton had not beaten Toronto in the teams’ previous four meetings.
However, it bears mention that three of those games were when the Leafs visited Rogers Place Feb. 27 – March 3, and went 3-0 against the Oilers, winning by scores of 4-0, 3-0, and 6-1. The other six times these teams have faced off over the last two and a half months, they’ve each won three times, and three of those games have gone to overtime. That’s what you call being ‘evenly matched’.
So while Edmonton’s most recent performances don’t erase what happened at Rogers Place four weeks ago (the Leafs certainly were full value for a lopsided series), its three losses could be taken in context. The Oilers couldn’t do much of anything right that week but have otherwise played tremendous hockey over the extended periods before (going 11-2) and since (8-2-1, including these two games against Toronto). Even the top teams have the occasional slump; those five days in late February and early March just happened to be when the Oilers hit the skids. They otherwise have not lost more than two games in a row all season.
One of the most impressive things about the 2021 Oilers has been their self-assuredness. They are playing the most consistent hockey of the McDavid/Draisaitl era, and their young(ish) core seems largely unaffected by the occasional speed bumps that are known to cause outbreaks of Chicken Little Syndrome (“The sky is falling”) in Oil Country.
Whether the Oilers players were starting to wonder if they could beat the Leafs, that question raged around them. And had they lost Monday, it would have dogged the Oilers all the way until the next time they faced Toronto. So, with Monday being the last time these teams meet in the 2020-21 regular season, defeating the Leafs was crucial, if not for the Oilers’ own psyche, at least silencing the outside chatter.
Each team comes away from this two-game set with seven goals, three points, and one win. Will the Oilers and Leafs see one another in the post-season? Time will tell. But if the 120 minutes and change of hockey that fans have seen the last three days is any indication, it would be anyone’s series for the taking.
Make-up Date With the Habs
From a material standpoint, that one win and two points were important for the Oilers, considering they now find themselves facing the Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Bell Centre. This is the first of three make-up dates for last week’s series that was postponed when Habs players Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. The NHL also announced Monday that the other two games will be made up on May 10 and May 11.
While Edmonton will be playing its second game in as many cities and as many nights, the Habs have not played since March 20, and have been hunkered down in Montreal awaiting league clearance to return to action. The Canadiens practiced Monday for the first time in more than a week. Edmonton is eight points ahead of the fourth-place Habs (37 points), although Montreal has five games in hand on the Oilers.
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.