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Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: The Oilers clinch the playoffs and the quest for Lord Stanley’s cup begins

With last night’s 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers officially are heading to the playoffs. For weeks we’ve bit our tongue talking about it, largely out of fear for you know, cursing them or something, but now it’s all official.

The Edmonton Oilers are a playoff team.

“It obviously means a lot. Your first goal every season is to play in the playoffs, that’s step one, and we’ve been able to do that,” said captain Connor McDavid, who scored two goals and two assists in the victory. “We’ve got lots and lots and lots of work to do.

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“Lots of work to do before we even get to the playoffs. we can’t take our foot off the gas now.”

For most of these Oilers, it’s not their first taste of playoff action. Only four years ago Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and co. were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round after beating the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

Then, of course, there was last year’s embarrassment in the bubble.

“Everyone left the bubble in a bad mood. No one felt great about where we were at, how that series went,” said McDavid. “It was a good moment for us to step back and learn from it — learn about what it takes to win.

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“Everyone has done a great job of buying in this year and believing. We’ve had good goaltending, which helps, and we’ve found ways to keep the puck out of our net. Offensively, we’ve been pretty good, and that’s a recipe for a playoff team.

“It’s up to us to make sure we’re ready game one.”

The playoffs are a special time of year. Ask any Oilers fan what the 2006 run was like when the 8th seeded Edmonton club nearly completed a Cinderella run, but fell short in game seven.

But for these Oilers, they enter the postseason in a better spot than that year, or even last year as a bubble team. That’s in thanks to a regular season that’s seen them post a 30-17-2 record and a .640 points percentage, but it didn’t always look that way.

In Edmonton’s first nine games of this campaign they posted a meagre 3-6 record, leaving some shaking their heads. Where was the progress that was seen from the previous regular season? Were they about to fall flat on their faces? They were justified questions, but Edmonton proved them wrong.

Since then? Well, they’ve been one of the best teams in the entire NHL. They’ve posted a 28-11-2 record and a .707 points percentage, fourth best in the NHL behind the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes.

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“It’s not a light switch. You can’t just turn your game on and off, you have to keep building,” said McDavid. “I remember in 2017 we were playing some real good hockey and came out and beat a good San Jose team.

“We’re hoping for the same thing this year. We want to go in playing our best and give ourselves the best opportunity game one.”

Head coach Dave Tippett wants the same.

“We’ve got six games left that we have to make sure we’re continuing to build our team,” he said. “I give our guys credit, our goal was to make sure we were a playoff team and that’s what we accomplished.”

The Oilers now shift their focus towards getting ready for the big game, the first of the playoffs. Nothing is set in stone in terms of matchup, especially after the Montreal Canadiens late surge and the faltering of the Winnipeg Jets.

There is one thing Edmonton can take care of, and it’s their own game. With six regular season games left, it’s up to the players to elevate their game to another level — oh, and get Connor McDavid to 100 points.

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May 3, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Backhanders…

  • Tyson Barrie wants to see McDavid hit 100: “I don’t know if we can try to get him there, he’ll just get there himself.
  • McDavid hit the 30 goal mark on the campaign last night giving him 31 goals on the season, his fifth straight year hitting the mark. He joined elite company of players to score 30 goals and 60 assists within 50 or less games in a year. Wayne Gretzky, who did it nine times, and Mario Lemieux who did it five times. That’s it — that’s the list.
  • No matter what happens, this year will mark the first seasons since 1991 that the Oilers faced a Canadian team in the opening round of the playoffs. That year, the Oilers met the Flames and Esa Tikkaen scored a hat-trick in game seven to help the team rally from a three-goal deficit to win the game, and the series.
  • Philip Broberg has arrived in Edmonton. The defenceman posted an image of the city from his hotel room on his Instagram page.

What they’re saying…

Auston Matthews is great, but Connor McDavid is better. Just ask the Vancouver Canucks.

After getting bullied by Matthews on Saturday, what was left of the Canucks was exploited on Monday by McDavid, who seems in a hurry to get to an historic 100 points in the National Hockey League’s pandemic season.

The Edmonton Oilers superstar, who started 13 points shy of an unthinkable century with seven of 56 games to go, popped up only when it mattered with two goals and two assists in a 5-3 victory over the exhausted Canucks.

McDavid’s ability to flex and generate goals felt like piling on after Canucks coach Travis Green conceded Monday morning that the mysterious injury to Elias Pettersson has left Vancouver without a game-breaker.

Matthews, who might have been chasing 50 goals in the abbreviated season had he not played a bunch of games with a wrist injury – and missed four games entirely – snatched two goals in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-1 win on Saturday. – Iain MacIntyre, Sportsnet


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]