A team with little experience or baggage in a Game 7 is about to face a team with a lot of both.
The Edmonton Oilers avoided elimination in Game 6 with a resounding 7-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at home Sunday. Wednesday’s winner in Anaheim meets the Nashville Predators in the NHL’s Western Conference final.
Edmonton’s last Game 7 was 11 years ago, when the Oilers fell 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the deciding game of the Stanley Cup final.
Some Oilers, such as Milan Lucic, have played a Game 7 with other clubs, but haven’t experienced that pressure cooker with their current teammates.
The Ducks, by contrast, have played a Game 7 in each of the last four years and lost all of them at home.
So the Oilers may be light on Game 7 seasoning, but they’re also unburdened by Game 7 history.
“Sometimes it’s nice to be naive. Sometimes it’s nice to go in there and be stupid to it,” Oilers centre Mark Letestu said Monday.
“Experiencing it for the first time, it’s exciting for everybody. We’re just going to out and play. We don’t really have anything to fall back on.”
It’s been an oddly high-scoring series with seven or more goals scored in all but one game. Goaltending has run hot and cold. Each team won twice in each other’s barn before getting a victory at home.
The Ducks had the momentum after a pair of comeback overtime wins for a 3-2 series lead, but they were completely dominated Sunday from the opening puck drop.
“Momentum in my opinion, you re-establish it every night,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said. “It doesn’t carry over from game to game.
“Each game is its own entity, has its own circumstance, takes on its own personality and we’ve really seen this in this series.”
Moving Leon Draisaitl off the wing of captain Connor McDavid to centre the second line between Lucic and Anton Slepyshev in Game 5 paid dividends in Game 6. Draisaitl scored a hat trick and assisted on two goals.
The move also allowed McLellan to get the big-bodied Lucic and Draisaitl up against up against Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. He was held without a point Sunday after three goals and six assists in his previous two games.
The switch seemed to energize Lucic, who tied for the team lead in hits and assisted on two of Draisaitl’s goals.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are still looking for their first goals of the playoffs. McDavid was held off the scoresheet in Game 6.
But Edmonton is getting secondary scoring from players such as Letestu, Slepyshev, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian and Drake Caggiula.
With Andrej Sekera (lower body) out for the series and the status of Oscar Klefbom (upper body) unclear for Wednesday, Edmonton’s young or little-used defencemen played bigger roles Sunday.
Matt Benning, 22, spent time quarterbacking the second power play unit.
“The biggest thing is the emotional side of things is heightened,” Benning said. “You need to play within your game. You can’t do anything that you’re not used to playing or anything like that.”
Eric Gryba, 29, and Griffin Reinhart, 23, made their series debuts in Game 6.
“Your adrenalin is definitely going,” Gryba said. “Every play is kind of max exertion and you don’t want to be getting caught not doing something not hard enough. It helps when the teams plays that well.”
Lucic is the most experienced player on both rosters in a Game 7 with nine previous appearances as a Boston Bruin. He’s also the most productive with four goals and two assists.
Getzlaf and Corey Perry have each gone the distance six times with the Ducks.
Anaheim forward Patrick Eaves has played a Game 7 seven times in his career, but Wednesday might not be No. 8 as he’s been scratched the last two games with an injury.
Both McLellan and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle are 1-2 in their coaching careers in a Game 7. Experience helps, but McLellan said you can’t rely on it.
“We get to make our own history.”
Edmonton Oilers’ Game 7 History
April 22, 1984: 7-4 win vs Calgary
April 30, 1986: 3-2 loss vs Calgary
May 31, 1987: 3-1 win vs Philadelphia
April 15, 1989: 6-3 loss vs LA
April 16, 1990: 4-1 win vs Winnipeg
April 16, 1991: 5-4 OT win vs Calgary
April 29, 1997: 4-3 OT win vs Dallas
May 4, 1998: 4-0 win vs Colorado
June 19, 2006: 3-1 loss vs Carolina
— With files from Kevin Jesus, Global News