The Edmonton Oilers vs the Winnipeg Jets is a familiar playoff match-up.
The road to every single one of Edmonton’s five Stanley Cups featured a win over Winnipeg in either the first or second round of the playoffs. The two teams also played each other in the WHA playoffs multiple times, including an Avco Cup win for the Jets in 1979 before both teams joined the NHL.
But those were different Winnipeg Jets than the Winnipeg Jets of today.
The Oilers’ old WHA cousins and playoff punching bag packed up and moved to Phoenix in the mid-90s to become the Coyotes. The Oilers and Coyotes haven’t met in the playoffs since. This new version of the Jets, of course, is the Atlanta Thrashers, who moved north in 2011.
Let’s look back at some iconic moments from the Oilers and Thrashers rivalry to prepare for this series against the Jets 2.0.
Wait… the Oilers and Thrashers rivalry? The random, wildly unsuccessful team from the Eastern Conference that we would see once or twice per season? Yes, that’s right. The Thrashers. There isn’t really a rivalry here at all, per se, but this playoff series gives us a chance to look back at one of the wildest brawls in Oilers history…
On Feb. 11, 2004, the Oilers hosted the Thrashers for the only meeting between the two teams of the season. Edmonton scored two goals in the first, from Georges Laraque and Raffi Torres, and then the Thrashers brought the game to within one in the second period on a goal from Serge Aubin.
In the third, all hell would break loose.
Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll scored to give the Oilers a comfortable 4-1 lead. After the fourth goal, Thrashers defenceman Garnet Exelby speared Ethan Moreau, and the pair dropped the gloves. Play resumed as normal for a few minutes before Atlanta put all of their goons on the ice at once and things really started to get wild.
At centre ice, it looked like Jason Chimera is going to get into it with Jeff Cowan, so Georges Laraque steps in to get in the middle of it. That brings defenceman Ivan Majesky into the picture and everybody else on the ice follows.
Laraque was looking for a fight with Andy Sutton, but the big, 6’6″ defender wouldn’t answer the bell. Instead, Sutton would find a dance partner in Eric Brewer, leading colour commentator Ray Ferarro, his former teammate in Atlanta, to basically call him a coward on the broadcast.
Brewer did a good job of holding his own with Sutton, considering the difference in size between the two players. Meanwhile, as the camera is focused solely on Sutton and Brewer, Kevin Quinn points out that Mike Bishai has been tossed into the Thrashers’ bench by Serge Aubin and the two are going at it from there.
The camera finally pans to a bird’s eye view of Bishai, standing up in Atlanta’s bench surrounded by white uniforms, feeding Aubin with right hooks. As that breaks up, Ty Conklin and Pasi Nurminen get in on the action, meeting up at centre ice to complete the chaos. As that’s going on, Big Georges finally finds somebody to throw down with. It’s Francis Lessard, a fellow heavyweight Laraque would know well from the QMJHL.
When it’s all said and done, the Thrashers play the remaining couple of minutes without a goaltender as Nurminen has been ejected and starter Byron Dafoe had left the game earlier with an injury. Ales Hemsky would bury a puck into the empty net for good measure and the charged-up Oilers would skate away with a 5-1 win.
Here’s the video, courtesy of Hockey Fights, in all of its glory…
After the game, head coach Craig MacTavish said he had never seen anything like it before, which is pretty impressive given the wild things that guy saw during his time in the league.
“We had a bad angle of the Bishai incident, but we saw it on replay and it was pretty impressive,” MacTavish said. “As many years as I’ve been in the game, I’ve never seen a guy fighting standing up in the opposition’s bench.
“That’s like diving into somebody else’s foxhole.”
That should get you charged up for the first-ever playoff series between the Oilers and Thrashers/Jets!