The top five playoff scorers in the history of the Edmonton Oilers is exactly what you’d expect it to be.
Wayne Gretzky is first, Mark Messier is second, Jari Kurri is third, Glenn Anderson is fourth, and Paul Coffey is fifth.
Those Hall of Famers formed the Oilers’ dynasty in the 1980s, putting together some of the most dominant seasons and runs ever seen in NHL history. They won four Stanley Cups together and then the trio of Messier, Kurri, and Anderson won once more in 1990 after Coffey and Gretzky were gone.
While those five players are synonymous with Oilers’ success, Edmonton has seen its fair share of unheralded players turn themselves into folk legends with a huge playoff run or a key goal when it mattered most. Let’s take a look back at some memorable playoff performances from unsung heroes…
John Muckler had a hunch.
The Oilers and the Boston Bruins were engaged in what would wind up being the longest Stanley Cup Final game in NHL history in Game 1 in 1990.
The Gretzky-less Oilers were underdogs that year, putting up a 38-28-14 record in the regular season. The Oilers edged out the Jets in seven games in the first round, beat the Blackhawks in six in the second round, and then took down Gretzky’s Kings in the Conference Final. That earned them a date with the Bruins, who boasted the best record in the league at 46-25-9.
In Game 1, the Oilers went up 2-0 but the Bruins tied the game with a pair of goals in the third period. The two teams trudged through nearly an entire other game in overtime before the Oilers found an unlikely hero.
Petr Klima spent a good chunk of the overtime on the bench watching because he wasn’t known for two-way play. In the third overtime period, Muckler figured he should get Klima’s fresh legs and accurate shot a chance — and it paid off.
Klima sniped a goal between Andy Moog’s pads and gave the Oilers the 3-2 win. Edmonton would go on to win the Stanley Cup in five games over Boston.
It’s a bit unfair to call Esa Tikkanen an unsung hero. He was a very good player for the Oilers in the 1980s, hitting the 30-goal plateau three times and finishing as a finalist in Selke Trophy voting three times. Regardless, I want to include him on this list because of his huge Battle of Alberta performance.
Tikkanen, known for his pesky play and ability to agitate opponents, was a member of four Stanley Cup teams in Edmonton, but he really blossomed into a key player in the late-80s. During the 1990 and 1991 playoff runs, Tikkanen further endeared himself to Oilers fans by coming up with some clutch goals.
In the first round of the 1991 playoffs, the Oilers were lodged in an intense Battle of Alberta with the Flames who finished 20 points ahead in the standings. In Game 6, with the Oilers up 3-2 in the series, Theo Fleury scored an overtime goal and slid on his knees across the ice at Northland Colisseum.
A couple of days later at the Saddledome, the Oilers and Flames duked it in a back-and-forth Game 7. Calgary went up 3-0, but Edmonton battled back with three goals of their own, two from Tikkanen. The Oilers and Flames exchanged goals in the third and ultimately went into overtime tied 4-4.
Just a few minutes in, Tikkanen completed his hat-trick and gave the Oilers the Battle of Alberta crown, rendering Fleury’s emphatic goal obsolete.
By the time the mid-90s rolled around, the Oilers were a completely different team than they were during their glory days of the 80s.
Gone were the likes of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, and Coffey, and in their place was a new group, loaded with gritty players who were always difficult to play against. Despite lacking much star power outside of Doug Weight and Curtis Joseph in net, the Oilers were a consistent playoff team in the late-90s, giving the top teams in the Western Conference a tough test each spring.
In 1997, the Oilers were David and the Dallas Stars were Goliath. Dallas, led by future Hall of Famers Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk, finished 48-26-8, while the Oilers squeaked into the playoffs with a 36-37-9 record.
The Oilers and Stars went back and forth in this series with a handful of tight games. It all came down to a Game 7 match in Dallas.
In overtime, the Stars had a great chance to ice the series, as Daryl Sydor wrapped a puck around the net and the rebound came out to Nieuwendyk in front. With Nieuwendyk staring down an open cage, Joseph dove across the crease to stop what appeared to be a sure goal.
Shortly after the next face-off, Weight would hit the speedy Todd Marchant in stride. Marchant ripped through the blueline and past Stars defender Grant Ledyard, causing him to nearly break his ankles on the pivot, and fired a shot past Moog to complete the upset.
Where to even begin with this guy?
Fernando Pisani’s run with the 2005-06 Oilers was legendary. An Edmonton native, Pisani was selected in the eighth round of the 1996 draft and didn’t debut in the NHL until he was 26 years old in 2002-03. In 05-06, Pisani broke out as a solid depth contributor for the Oilers, burying 18 goals over 80 games.
In the playoffs, he caught fire.
Pisani led the NHL in playoff goals that year with 14. He had a pair in Edmonton’s series-clinching upset in Game 6 over Detroit and the game-winner in Game 5 against San Jose, but the biggest goal of Pisani’s epic run came in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in Carolina.
With the Oilers down 3-1 in the series, the team was facing a must-win situation on the road. Early in overtime, Steve Staios took a tripping penalty, setting up Carolina for a chance to win the Stanley Cup on a walk-off. Instead, Pisani picked off a lazy breakout pass at Carolina’s blueline, went in on a breakaway, and roofed the game-winner over Cam Ward’s glove.
Pisani would add another goal in Edmonton’s commanding 4-0 win in Game 6 and scored the Oilers’ only goal in Game 7.
We’ll finish things off with arguably the most out-of-the-blue contributions in Oilers playoff history.
At the 2017 trade deadline with the Oilers on their way to ending their decade-long playoff drought, Peter Chiarelli sent defenceman Brandon Davidson to Montreal to acquire David Desharnais, a tenacious, veteran pivot to centre the fourth line.
Desharnais only buried a couple of goals in 18 regular-season games for the Oilers and he only buried one in the playoffs — but boy oh boy, was it a memorable one.
The Oilers suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Sharks in San Jose in Game 4 of the first round, losing 7-0. That loss locked the series at 2-2 with a pivotal Game 5 back in Edmonton. The Sharks had a 3-1 lead mid-way through the game, but Mark Letestu brought things to within one late in the frame. In the dying minutes of the third, Oscar Klefbom clapped home the tying goal, sending the game to overtime.
With under two minutes left in the first overtime frame, Leon Draisaitl sauced a pass into the middle of San Jose’s zone. Desharnais worked himself away from Tomas Hertl and roofed the winner over a screened Marin Jones. The Oilers would go on to win the series in San Jose a couple of days later.
There have been a lot of amazing performances in Edmonton’s playoff history but those five are particularly fun to look back on. Pisani will always be a hero in Edmonton because of 2006 and guys like Desharnais, Marchant, and Klima who might otherwise have slipped through the cracks of Oilers’ lore will never be forgotten due to those clutch goals.
So, who’s next? We all know that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to score some big goals this spring, but will we see an under-the-radar guy step up and become a Pisani?
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