In order to celebrate the Edmonton Oilers’ 40-year anniversary AND distract ourselves during this hockey-less nightmare, we’ll be re-living 40 amazing moments from Oilers history. Today, we have Curtis Joseph and Todd Marchant leading the Oilers to a Game 7 upset over the Dallas Stars in 1997.
The 1990s were a difficult time for the Edmonton Oilers.
The beginning of the decade saw the unravelling of the 1980s dynasty team as the small-market, low-budget Oilers couldn’t afford to keep their stars in town. Jari Kurri left to play in Europe, Mark Messier demanded a trade, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr were dealt to Toronto, and even head coach John Muckler moved on to become the coach and general manager in Buffalo.
Frustration from the fans that was sparked by the trade of Wayne Gretzky a few years earlier was compounded by the exodus of the rest of the group, resulting in a steep decline in attendance.
In 1992-93, the Oilers would miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. By then, they were a skeleton of their former selves, featuring only a handful of players, Esa Tikkanen, Craig MacTavish, and Bill Ranford, from their glory days. That team would go on to miss the playoffs for the next three years in a row after that, too.
But as the team struggled on the ice, they were able to re-stock their cupboards with talent through the draft and through trades. The Oilers acquired Doug Weight and Todd Marchant in separate trades from the Rangers in exchange for Tikkanen in 1993 and MacTavish in 1994, they drafted Ryan Smyth and Jason Arnott with top picks in 1993 and 1994, and they moved two first-round picks to the Blues to get Curtis Joseph and Mike Grier in 1995.
This fast-skating, gritty Oilers team, backstopped by excellent goaltending by Joseph between the pipes, would make a triumphant return to the playoffs in 1997 after a four-year hiatus. They put together a 36-37-9 record, good for seventh in the Western Conference, meaning they would match up with the dominant Dallas Stars in the first round.
The Stars rebounded from a miserable season the year before with a franchise-record 104 points in the standings. With Ken Hitchcock behind the bench for his first full season, the Stars looked like a serious Stanley Cup contender. They had acquired Joe Nieuwendyk the previous year for top prospect Jarome Iginla, giving captain Mike Modano another star to play on his wing. Dallas also signed veteran Pat Verbeek in free agency and acquired stud defenceman Sergei Zubov in an off-season trade. Thanks to the rock-solid team defence managed by Hitchcock, former Oiler Andy Moog had the best season of his career in net for the Stars. Top to bottom, this was a loaded team.
This truly was a David vs Goliath situation. The Stars had finished the season with a 48-26-8 record, tied for second-most points in the league with the New Jersey Devils and just three points back of the Presidents’ Trophy winners and defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Colorado Avalanche. They had also dominated the Oilers in the season series, winning all four games and outscoring Edmonton by a score of 18-6.
But the Oilers weren’t going to roll over easily. Dallas took the first game of the series at home but Edmonton battled back in the second game with a 4-0 victory. That win in Dallas gave Edmonton home-ice advantage in what was now a best-of-five series.
In Game 3, the Stars carried a commanding 3-0 lead late in the third period, but the Oilers stormed back with three goals in just under two minutes from Doug Weight, Andrei Kovalenko, and Mike Grier to tie things up before veteran Kelly Buchberger won the game in overtime. This would become a theme for the rest of the series.
The Oilers would drop the fourth game of the series at home, knotting things up at 2-2 and giving Dallas home-ice in a best-of-three series the rest of the way.
In a pivotal fifth game in Dallas, the Oilers would edge out a 1-0 victory thanks to a clutch Ryan Smyth goal in double overtime and an incredible 43-save shutout performance from Joseph in net. With a chance to clinch the upset on home ice, the Oilers ended up losing the sixth game by a score of 3-2, sending the series back to Dallas for a winner-take-all seventh game.
This had already been an incredible series, filled with tight, back-and-forth play, overtime heroics, and amazing goaltending, so it was fitting that there would be a Game 7. There were a lot of amazing things that came out of this series, like CuJo’s shutout, the three goals in two minutes, and Buchberger’s overtime goal, but the heroics of Game 7 are what really stand out.
The teams were deadlocked at 3-3 after 60 minutes of play, so Game 7 needed overtime to determine a winner. A little over half-way into the overtime period, Kelly Buchberger got called for slashing as he crashed the net on Moog and defenceman Richard Matvichuk was called for roughing for pounding Buchberger into the ice.
Those calls put the game at four-on-four. Oilers’ rookie Mats Lindgren lost the face-off to Nieuwendyk in the Stars’ zone and Dallas ripped up ice. Defenceman Daryl Sydor busted in from the blueline and skated behind the net, where he was tailed by Oilers defender Boris Mironov trying to shake him with some vicious slashes.
Sydor threw a wrap-around shot on net that Joseph stopped, but the puck bounced out in front of the net to Nieuwendyk, who was battling with Oilers’ defenceman Luke Richardson. Nieuwendyk slipped away from Richardson, who had lost sight of the puck, and managed to get a stick on it to fire it at a completely yawning cage. Joseph, who knew the puck had bounced off his blocker and out in front of the net, managed to dive in the way of the puck at the last second to rob Nieuwendyk of what looked like a sure goal.
Everybody was shocked by the save. Joseph stood in net and you could see this intense, completely unphased look on his face through his mask. The Oilers on the ice looked shocked that they were still alive and the Stars on the bench looked dumbfounded that they hadn’t won. Hitchcock could only shake his head and chuckle under his breath.
As the highlight was rolling, the colour commentator said… “right now, how could you even imagine that Dallas could win this game.” He was right.
After the next face-off, the Stars looked completely out of it. Mike Modano won the draw and Sydor fired a slap-shot on net that Joseph would direct into the corner. The Oilers would break the puck out, but the Stars would collect it again in the neutral zone and try to gain the zone again. Modano got worked off the puck by Oilers’ defender Greg De Vries and Doug Weight picked up the puck to head up ice.
Weight hit the Oilers’ blueline and fired a pass to Todd Marchant, who was streaking up the wing with speed. Marchant collected the puck and ripped by Stars’ defender Grand Ledyard with such speed that he tripped over his own feet while trying to pivot. On a partial break, Marchant cut to the centre of the ice and snapped a shot over Moog’s blocker side.
Game over. Goliath, meet David.
Just as the commentator said, after CuJo made that save, there was no way Dallas was winning that game. It took only a few seconds for Marchant to finally break through Dallas’ rock-solid blueline after that and become an overtime hero.
If you want to re-live this incredible game, here it is:
The Oilers would go on to get bounced by the Avalanche in the second round of the playoffs, but this was a much-needed series win for a team and a fanbase that had struggled through a difficult three years. After four seasons on the outside looking in, this gutsy 1997 squad gave Edmonton a reason to get excited again.