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All games are not created equal.
Even in a compact 56-game coronavirus pandemic shortened season they are not.
In the case of the Edmonton Oilers, I believe Game 26 Saturday night against the Calgary Flames will prove to end up being the most significant of all their regular season games considering what was involved.
Sunday, because Edmonton came back to win it, the Oilers are six points ahead of Calgary in the standings instead of only two if they’d lost it.
But it goes beyond the standings where the Oilers now have 30 points with two games to go to the midway mark of the season heading into a three-game series at home against an Ottawa Senators team that only has three wins on the road so far this season.
It’s about getting back to climbing the ladder instead of continuing with their suddenly surprising death spiral.
In the post-game Zoom interviews I asked the question of Connor McDavid, who ended only the third three-game pointless stretch of his career with a three-point night in a 3-2 win with the winning goal with only 3:45 remaining.
How significant of a win was this?
“It’s a big win. When you’re sliding like we were, sometimes it’s tough to find a way out of it,” he said.
“I thought we did a great job as an entire group of just sticking with it even though we didn’t get off to our best start. Hopefully that builds us some momentum heading into a very big Ottawa series this week.”
In some ways, the Oilers response was concerning.
In the three losses against Toronto, the Oilers came out of the gate great.
Allowing two soft goals on the first two shots on goal and not getting a save when they needed one in another game sent them into the toilet.
Knowing Calgary had new coach Darryl Sutter sitting 137 kilometres away on his ranch in Viking watching the game on Hockey Night In Canada due to NHL COVID-19 protocols, virtually guaranteed a response by the Flames. The Oilers didn’t match it. Not even close.
The Flames had an 11-1 edge in shots to open the game and took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission on a power-play goal. So let’s not give them too much credit here.
But Darnell Nurse fought Milan Lucic. And James Neal of all players, perhaps due to desperately needing to get out of the doghouse following his performance Thursday, fought Matthew Tkachuk.
But mostly it was goaltender Mike Smith’s outstanding performance in goal to keep them in the game and a move by head coach Dave Tippett to put the Dynamic Duo of Leon Draisaitl and McDavid back together that lit the dynamite to finally blast them out of their funk.
Edmonton had scored the grand total of one goal in 200 minutes of hockey at home when Tippett put the two back together again.
I asked Tippett the same question as I asked his captain.
What does he think or hope the significance of this game might be going forward?
“We didn’t play very well for three games. We have to start building our game back up. We took some steps in this game. There’s a competitive level you have to be at in this league and it doesn’t matter who you are playing.
“I give our team a ton of credit. Our team competed. In the second and third periods, our team competed really hard. We have to come back and build on that now.”
My contention is the No. 1 goal for the rest of the regular season has to be for the Oilers to stay ahead of Calgary. Do that, and I believe that will put them in the four-team Canadian Division start to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The rivals have six more games to play against Calgary including two a mere 10 days away. And the arrival of Sutter as head coach complicates the picture.
One thing their fans have to hope is that the Oilers learned this past week how fast things can change in this seven-team division north of the border.
I also asked McDavid about what ending his drought might meant to him going forward personally.
“I thought Toronto did a good job (on me) and I didn’t play my best hockey. I need to play better for our group and personally for my own pride,” he responded.
“I was happy to contribute tonight but that’s all I did. Everyone else was great.”
McDavid increased his point total to 43, seven more than Chicago’s Patrick Kane, eight up on Draisaitl and a dozen ahead of Toronto’s Auston Matthews who continues to lead the league in goals with 18 but now sits only three ahead of McDavid.
All games are not created equal, but that game returned McDavid and Draisaitl to being McDavid and Draisaitl. And that result left the team that went into the Toronto series having won 11 of their previous 13 games, believing maybe they could return to finding that form again.
Sweep the series with Ottawa as they did with their pair of previous two-game series with the Senators and it would be 15 of their last 20.
The scare the team received this past week may even turn out to be highly beneficial going forward.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021