*This article was published ahead of the Oilers’ 2022 Western Conference Final series against the Colorado Avalanche
On May 26, 2022, the Edmonton Oilers punched their ticket to the Western Conference Final with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames to win their second-round series 4-1. One day later, the Oilers learned who their opponent would be when the Colorado Avalanche advanced to the conference championship series with a 3-2 win to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in six games.
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The West Final got underway on May 31 when the Oilers traveled to Denver to face the Avalanche in Game 1 at Ball Arena. This was the first postseason meeting between Edmonton and Colorado since the 1998 Western Conference Quarterfinals, a series that time seems to have forgotten. While that’s quite alright with Avalanche fans, who probably erased the series from their memory banks the day after it ended, those moments from the spring of 1998 are ones that Oilers fans should forever treasure.
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The Oilers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven series with an incredible turnaround as Edmonton had led for only 5:26 of the first 3:08:36 played in the series. Over the final 163:40, the Oilers outscored Colorado 9-0. Here’s a look back 24 years ago, with the story of one of the quirkiest series in Edmonton’s NHL history.
Flashback to Oilers’ 1997 Playoff Run
In the spring of 1997, Edmonton’s favourite sons became the darlings of the NHL. Making their first playoff appearance in five years, the young Oilers defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 in the first round, a stunning upset that has become ingrained in Edmonton’s hockey fabric. There is arguably no more famous playoff goal in franchise history than Todd Marchant’s overtime winner in Game 7 – and this for a team that has won five Stanley Cups and been to two others.
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The Oilers advanced to face Colorado in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, where Edmonton’s magic ran out: the Avs, who a year earlier had won their first Cup, dispatched the young Oilers in five games.
Oilers Stumble Out of the Gate in 1997-98
After that surprise run in 1997, expectations were that Edmonton would at least get back to the postseason in 1998. After all, the Oilers had all-star forwards Doug Weight and Jason Arnott, future Hall-of-Famer Curtis Joseph at his peak between the pipes, and a host of young players that theoretically still had ample room for growth before reaching their potential.
But the Oilers couldn’t even hold their footing, never mind take a step forward, over the first half of the 1997-98 season. After an eight-game winless streak dropped their record to 11-22-9, Edmonton found itself in 12th place in the Western Conference with 40 games to play.
Trades Spark Turnaround for Oilers
Oilers general manager Glen Sather reversed course with two blockbuster moves in the span of five days during the holiday season. On Dec. 30, 1997, he dealt for top-pairing defenseman Roman Hamrlik, a former No. 1 overall pick, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then, on Jan. 4, 1998, he sent Arnott to the New Jersey Devils in a multi-player deal that saw Edmonton acquire forward Bill Guerin, a former Stanley Cup champion who had led the Devils with 29 goals in 1996-97.
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Following the Guerin trade, Edmonton went 24-15-1, climbing all the way to seventh in the conference to book a first-round playoff date with the No. 2 seed Avalanche.
Oilers Steal Series Opener in Denver
Game 1 looked a lot like the previous year’s series, with the Avs in control. On the strength of a pair of Peter Forsberg goals, they led 2-0 with less than nine minutes remaining, before an Oilers rally that no one in the McNichols Sports Arena saw coming.
Guerin got Edmonton on the board with a power-play goal at 11:02 of the third period, Dean McAmmond made the score 2-2 when he put the puck past Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy at 12:22, and Boris Mironov scored at 14:51, putting the Oilers ahead by one. Three goals in 3:49 left the Denver crowd stunned, and the shock still hadn’t worn off when the final buzzer sounded. While the Avalanche desperately swarmed Joseph, they came up empty in a last-ditch attempt to tie the game. Final score: Edmonton 3, Colorado 2.
Avalanche Seize Control of Series
Trailing 1-0 in the series, Colorado came out smoking in Game 2, scoring twice before the first period was three minutes old to take an early 2-0 lead, and never looked back. While Edmonton briefly pulled to within one, as Guerin scored midway through the second period to make it 2-1, the Avalanche responded moments later with goals less than two minutes apart to take a 4-1 lead into the second intermission. Valeri Kamensky’s second goal of the night for the Avalanche just thirty seconds into the third buried the Oilers, who made things a bit more respectable with a late tally from Guerin. Final score: Colorado 5, Edmonton 2.
With the series tied 1-1, the teams headed north for a pair of tilts at Edmonton Coliseum. Game 3 continued the theme of the Oilers playing from behind; Colorado led 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 before two quick goals midway through the third period from Guerin and Oilers captain Kelly Buchberger knotted things up at 4 and forced overtime, where Joe Sakic ended it with a slapshot that beat Joseph at 15:25. Final score: Colorado 5, Edmonton 4.
In Game 4, the Oilers opened the scoring for the first time in the series, with a power-play goal from Ryan Smyth at 17:52 of the opening period. Edmonton’s lead lasted all of 17 seconds before Forsberg potted his fifth goal of the series, tying the game 1-1 at 18:09 of the first period. The teams remained deadlocked until midway through the third when Claude Lemieux put Colorado in front for good at 10:59. Forsberg sealed the victory for the Avs with an empty-net goal in the final moments. Final score: Colorado 3, Edmonton 1.
Oilers Come Alive in Game 5
With the series back at the McNichols Sports Arena, the expectation throughout the hockey world was that Colorado would close out Edmonton in five games for a second consecutive playoff, and everything was going to form with Stephane Yelle scoring to give Colorado a 1-0 lead in the first period.
If at that point one was told that Yelle’s tally would be Colorado’s last goal of the series, the assumption would be that Colorado won the game 1-0 and advanced to the next round. But the Avs didn’t win Game 5 1-0.
Just as they did in the series opener, Edmonton stunned the Denver fans with a third-period rally, started by Guerin on the power-play. The red-hot former Devil’s fifth goal in five games 3:35 into the frame pulled Edmonton even at 1-1. Then it was Mike Grier’s turn. In what was probably his defining performance as an Oiler, the beloved blue-collar forward scored twice in the final minutes, first when his centering pass deflected off the skate of Avs all-star defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh past Roy at 13:11, then firing the puck into an empty net at 19:05 to extend Edmonton’s postseason for at least one more game. Final score: Edmonton 3, Colorado 1.
First Home Win of Series for Oilers
Edmonton Coliseum was electric for Game 6. Defenceman Drake Berehowsky thrilled the sellout crowd of 17,099, scoring just 3:10 into the game to put the Oilers ahead 1-0. What followed were many nervous moments, as Edmonton fought to hold its precarious one-goal lead while the Avs got multiple opportunities on the power play.
It wasn’t until Mironov’s power-play marker at 10:21 of the final frame that the Oil Country faithful could breathe a bit easier. Colorado pressed throughout the third, outshooting them 15-3 in the period, but Joseph held firm to earn his fifth career playoff shutout with the series-evening victory. Final score: Edmonton 2, Colorado 0.
Oilers Complete Comeback
The momentum had certainly shifted in Edmonton’s favour. Just how much became clear shortly after the puck dropped on Game 7 at McNichols, as Oilers rearguard Janne Niinimaa scored before the game was five minutes old. Then Guerin scored for a sixth time in the series just 38 seconds before the first intermission. Marchant added a goal midway through the second, and Mats Lindgren scored at 1:45 of the third period. Colorado was never really in the game, and then it was over. Final score: Oilers 4, Avalanche 0.
At the time of Game 7, current Oilers captain Connor McDavid was just 16 months old and Avs star defenceman Cale Makar wouldn’t be born for another five months. Now, 8,793 days later, Edmonton and Colorado finally meet again in the postseason, and this time a berth in the Stanley Cup Final is on the line. It should be well worth the wait.