Friedman: Edmonton Oilers players wanted to ‘break up the Flames’ by beating Calgary in 2022 playoff series
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Zach Laing2 months ago
When the Edmonton Oilers eliminated the Calgary Flames in five games during the 2022 NHL playoffs, nobody knew what was about to follow.
The team three hours south of Alberta’s capital, within weeks, began to unravel at the seams.
It’s just what the Oilers players wanted to happen.
We all know what happened last summer in Calgary. Johnny Gaudreau walked in free agency for what he felt were greener pastures in Columbus, while Matthew Tkachuk forced the Flames’ hand and was subsequently shipped to the Florida Panthers.
And on Thursday, major news slipped out of Cowtown that forwards Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm were leaning towards not re-signing after this upcoming season, while another forward in Tyler Toffoli outright asked for a trade. Defenceman Noah Hanifin, meanwhile, informed the club he wouldn’t be re-signing.
On Friday’s edition of The Jeff Marek Show, Elliotte Friedman was on as a guest where he spoke with Marek about what has transpired in Calgary, and how the Oilers players were motivated to, and I quote, “break up the Flames.”
“It’s funny that you bring this up today,” said Friedman, after Marek posed a question about if the Oilers were responsible for the Flames’ downfall, “because last season I was talking about that series with a member of the Oilers.
“They actually told me this story off the record when they first told me, so I never said anything. They actually texted me — I didn’t ask — today and said ‘remember that story I told you?’ and I said ‘Oh yeah.’ And he goes ‘if you want to keep my name out of it, you can tell the story.’
“They said when the Oilers were winning that series, that became a bit of a rallying cry for them, that they knew if they won that series, they could possibly break up the Flames.
“I think there’s something to it, I really do. I do. I’ll tell you something else that teaches me. It reached me about the elite of the elite. It’s not always the nicest thing to hear or say, but if you want to be the best, I think you can be a very nice person off the ice, or the field, or whatever competitive arena you’re in, but I think trying to win, you have to see the person between you and whatever trophy you’re trying to win as someone you have to do that to. When the competition is over, you can shake hands and be cordial, but when the competition is on, there’s no room for mercy.
“I would bet you a lot of players on those Oilers and Flames teams, they really like and respect each other and have relationships off the ice, but in that series, it’s clear to me from what that player said, that the Oilers weren’t just about winning that series. They were about ‘do we break up these Flames?'”
Marek responded by saying “we’ll have to see what happens here this offseason, but it’s very much trending towards the answer being a resounding yes.”
That’s one heckuva mindset to have as a team, and it just goes to show how seriously the Oilers took what was going on. And it made sense.
Calgary had been a thorn in the Oilers’ side for years. In 2021-22 alone, the two teams split the four-game season set down the middle 2-2, with the Flames outscoring Edmonton 17-16. Even dating back to the beginning of the 2018-19 season, the two teams had been evenly matched. The Oilers went 11-10-1 and outscored the Flames 106-97, but that playoff series was a chance to change things.
At first, it didn’t seem like the case as a wildly back-and-forth affair saw the Flames win game one 9-6 fending off a big Oilers push late into the second and into the third period. Game two was another middling affair. Calgary jumped out to a 2-0 lead 6:02 into the game as Edmonton continued to struggle early in games, but the Oilers stuck with it. Duncan Keith scored just past the 13-minute mark of that period, but Calgary regained their two-goal lead 2:04 into the second.
Then, something changed. A minute later Connor McDavid scored to make it a 3-2 game, and Evan Bouchard tied it up on the powerplay with five minutes left in the second. A shorthanded tally from Zach Hyman gave the Oilers their first lead of the series 10:14 into the third, and Leon Draisaitl sealed the game two minutes later. Edmonton won 5-2 as the series shifted back home.
The Oilers won game three 4-1, and took game four 5-3 having never trailed in the two games. Game five didn’t start great for Edmonton falling 2-0 5:41 into the second period, but three goals over the next 10 minutes gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead. The third goal was a powerplay tally by Hyman, and over the next 1:11, three more goals would be scored. Calgary buried two in thanks to Johnny Gaudreau and Calle Jarnkrok, then another Bouchard goal tied the game at four all.
The game couldn’t be solved in regulation and 5:03 into overtime, Connor McDavid sealed the series for the Oilers walking down from the point and firing a shot past a helpless Jacob Markstrom.
Time will tell what happens next for the Calgary Flames, who missed the 2023 playoffs by two points. With Gaudreau and Tkachuk already out the door, GM Brad Treliving departed the organization for the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason, while Calgary’s new president of hockey operations Don Maloney dismissed head coach Darryl Sutter and promoted Ryan Huska to fill his role.
Now, all of Backlund, Lindholm, Hanifin and Toffoli more likely than not playing for a new team at the start of next season at the soonest. The smart play for the Flames would be to make “rebuild style” trades involving all four of these players, but it is Calgary after all — a franchise who, for decades, has been more than content being one of the most middling franchises in the entire NHL.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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