While unable to win a playoff game in the NHL’s Western Conference final, the Edmonton Oilers accomplished something the team has not been able to do since 2006: reach the third round of the post-season.
On Tuesday, just hours after the Oilers’ heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in overtime, a number of hockey fans Global News spoke to suggested the sting of defeat could also be a catalyst for success in the future.
“(I’m) kind of upset,” Oilers fan Eliana Farthing said. “It sucks, but I think we came a really long way.”
“It’s a great start,” said Kendt Fredborg, a manager at United Sport and Cycle, an Edmonton sporting good store. “(There is) youth on the team, new coach… it’s only up from here.”
After winning their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings and then emerging from their second-round series against the Calgary Flames as winners of the first Battle of Alberta in a post-season in more than 30 years, the Oilers were unable to find a way to win against the Avs, who finished with the NHL’s second-best record in the regular season.
“They get to learn from some adversity, some challenges,” said Oilers fan Waylon Cameron.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to make them a stronger team. Get ready for next year. They know what it takes now to bring the (Stanley) Cup home.”
Some of the challenges the team grappled with during their playoff run was trying to play through injuries.
After Monday night’s game, Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse admitted he had been playing the entire post-season with a torn hip flexor while winger Leon Draisaitl was clearly playing through pain with what many hockey commentators believe is an ankle injury sustained during the series against the Kings.
Oilers fan Nathan Schauerte said he enjoyed going to games at Rogers Place.
“(The team was) establishing back a new normal, that normal was one of winning and having a change to come together as a community,” he said. “It was really positive.”
“We made it past Round 1 for a change, and we were close to the (Stanley) Cup,” said Benjamin Schauerte, who plays hockey himself. “But the Avalanche came and I think we all knew what was going to happen after the second win.”
Despite his condition, Draisaitl still sat second overall in the NHL in playoff scoring as of Tuesday with a staggering 32 points. The only player with more was his teammate and Oilers captain Connor McDavid with 33.
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Evander Kane, whom the Oilers signed in the middle of the season, still sat first among NHL players in playoff goals on Tuesday with 13, while teammate Zach Hyman was tied for second with 11. And in goal, 40-year-old Mike Smith’s .913 save percentage saw him sit tied for sixth best in the playoffs.
“(I’m) definitely a little heartbroken today, but the big thing is it was a great season and a great push,” Fredborg said. “The energy was amazing, not just in our store, but the entire city.”
“I’m really proud of them for getting as far as they did,” Oilers fan Jaylene Schauerte said. “The game was awesome last night. It was so much fun — such a close game.”
Farthing noted the Oilers’ run even captured the imaginations of Edmontonians who are not hockey fans.
“They got interested,” she said. “It definitely brought people together. There were so many people watching the game from everywhere — even outside the stadium.”
The playoffs arrived at a time when Edmonton’s downtown core has been the subject of debate in terms of how quiet it is and how safe it is perceived to be by citizens since the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to inner-cities in all major Canadian cities.
“I loved the vibe downtown,” Jaylene Schauerte said. “It was great to see the businesses just hopping again.”
Brad Lauer coaches the Oil Kings, Edmonton’s junior hockey team in the Western Hockey League.
His players are currently competing in a playoff series against the Seattle Thunderbirds that will determine the WHL championship. He said the pandemic has been tough on the Oil Kings, especially in terms of attendance, but believes the Oilers’ run will positively impact his hockey club even if their season is now over.
“With the excitement the Oilers have brought to the community, and people going to games (and) talking about it, we’re starting to see our attendance go up,” Lauer said.
“Obviously with the Oilers being out, being in the championship final here for the WHL, maybe it’s a great opportunity for fans who haven’t been to games to come see us.”
Fredborg said he also believes the Oil Kings will now give Oilers fans a chance to “still get your hockey fix.”
Jaylene Schauerte joked that even if some Oilers fans are still upset the team couldn’t win its way into the Stanley Cup Final, “all that matters really is that we beat Calgary.”
“We’ll try again next year,” she added.
Cameron also indicated the season has ended with optimism even if it concluded with a loss.
“We’ll be rooting for another good season and another playoff run again.”
–With files from Sarah Ryan, Global News