“Whatever it Takes.” That’s the mantra adopted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2022 Playoffs. It’s been a self fulfilling prophecy. The Oilers have shown strong resilience in their two playoff series against the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings and now they await the winner of the series featuring the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. The poster boy for the Oilers’ resiliency would have to be 40-year-old goaltender Mike Smith.
Not only did Smith battle hard just to come back from injury this season, he has clawed and fought and willed his way into the next round of the playoffs in spectacular fashion. Just when fans think he is down and out, he comes back and surprises with a big save or a 50-foot pass right on the money. In Game 4 of the Battle of Alberta, Smith let in a goal by the Flames’ Rasmus Andersson from 132 feet away that in series’ past would’ve completely sunk the Oilers.
Not this year. Not this group.
When Andersson’s shot went in to tie the game 3-3 late in the third period, Oilers fans immediately started thinking back to Steve Smith’s shot off of Grant Fuhr that sealed the Flames’ victory in the 1986 Smythe Division final. Smith? He just shrugged it off and made a couple of key saves in the closing minutes of Game 4 to seal the victory for the Oilers.
Oilers Overcome Adversity to Advance
The Oilers had a topsy turvy 2021-22 regular season full of injuries, COVID-19, long winning streaks and long losing streaks. They overcame the firing of former head coach Dave Tippett and promoted new head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson from their American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield. They were down three games to two against the Kings in their first-round playoff series until Connor McDavid took it upon himself to take over that series and lead the Oilers to a seventh-game triumph.
Even before the Battle of Alberta 2022 Playoff Edition began, most of the pundits were predicting a Flames victory in the series — even the Oilers’ beloved son Wayne Gretzky predicted the Flames would take out the Oilers. Boy, were they wrong. Now, as the Oilers prepare for the Western Conference Final, who is going to bet against them?
Short Break Between Series Might Help Injuries Heal
With the Oilers now awaiting their next playoff opponent, they have a few extra days to heal and prepare for either the Blues or Avalanche. Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse both played injured in parts of the Kings’ series and the entire five-game series against Calgary. These next few days off could help in their rehabilitation. In the case of Draisaitl, his injury suffered in Game 6 against the Kings may have slowed him down, but it didn’t stop him from contributing and then taking over the series against the Flames.
Draisaitl set an NHL record with four assists in one period in Game 3 and his assist on McDavid’s series-clinching goal gave him 16 points in the series, the most in Battle of Alberta playoff history breaking Gretzky’s record of 14 from 1983. Not bad for a guy on one leg.
Oilers’ Ability to Bounce Back Quickly Will Help Them Moving Forward
If you’re an Oilers fan, you can already consider the 2021-22 season a success, but this is only the halfway point of the playoffs. Considering how well the Oilers played against the remaining teams in the NHL Playoffs, they might have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup this spring. Part of the belief in Oil Country comes from the Oilers’ ability to overcome adversity quickly and focus on the challenge ahead. Nothing has really come easy for the team this season. General manager Ken Holland faced the heat right from last summer on with the signing of Duncan Keith, and choosing to trust in the goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
Fans and media picked away at the defense and called the team too soft for the playoffs. But now here they are just eight wins away from hockey’s ultimate prize. After facing a mountain of challenges all season and into the playoffs, the Oilers seem battle hardened enough to win it all. After a decade of darkness and being laughed at by fan bases around the league for so many years, doesn’t this feel good, Oilers fans?
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.