The Oilers learned plenty of lessons this spring. And a team looking for a playoff breakthrough finally did just that.
Edmonton fought back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the opening round before disposing of the Calgary Flames in five to advance to its first conference final in a generation.
The Oilers are now also keenly aware they’ll need to give even more if the once- proud franchise is going to reach its ultimate goal.
Artturi Lehkonen scored at 1:19 of overtime Monday as Colorado defeated Edmonton 6-5 to complete a four-game sweep and advance to their first Stanley Cup final since 2001.
“We’re playing hockey on June 6,” said Oilers interim head coach Jay Woodcroft, who took over from the fired Dave Tippett on Feb. 11 with Edmonton floundering outside the West’s top-8 seeds. “In order to accomplish that and be one of the final four teams, you’ve done some good things – and I don’t think we can lose sight of that. But there’s a lot more required in order to find a way to get to the Stanley Cup final.
“And then there’s more required to win the trophy.”
Cale Makar had a goal and four assists for Colorado, which climbed out of a two-goal hole in the third period before Edmonton tied it late to set up the dramatic extra-time winner.
“It’s a cool accomplishment,” said Makar, the first defenceman in NHL history with five points in a potential series-clinching game. “You’re making it to the biggest stage of the world in hockey. It’s exciting.”
Lehkonen also scored in overtime of Game 6 in last year’s semifinals to send Montreal to its first final since 1993.
“Kind of funny,” he said. “It was a good bounce. I got a tip on the first shot and it bounced right on my tape.”
Pavel Francouz made 30 saves for the Avalanche, who are into the final after three straight second-round exits.
A hobbled Leon Draisaitl had four assists, while Mike Smith stopped 36 shots as Edmonton saw its first trip to the conference final since 2006 come to an abrupt end.
“There’s no participation medal,” said the 40-year-old goalie. “It’s very disappointing. It’s hard to get to this point.”
“It feels like it’s (we’ve taken) steps,” McDavid said after the Oilers made the third round for the first time in his career. “You look at a Colorado team that’s been in that situation many, many times. They’re knocking on the door right now.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but that’s all it is.”
Colorado will face either the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning in the final. New York leads that series 2-1, with Game 4 set tonight in Tampa.
“I’m proud of the group to get to this point,” Draisaitl said. “I don’t think anyone necessarily expected us to be here. That being said, we expected to be here. And we want to be here and (go) even further.”
Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, who revealed he had been dealing with a torn hip flexor all playoffs, were described as “warriors” by Woodcroft.
“People laying it on the line,” said the coach. “There are a lot more (injuries) that haven’t been made public.
“I’m proud of them for being able to play with those type of limitations.”
Edmonton used its speed and skill to beat LA and Calgary to open the playoffs, but ran up against an opponent in Colorado that played at an even higher pace coupled with tenacity and defensive commitment.
Now the Oilers turn to next year, proud of what they accomplished, but also with first-hand knowledge there’s another level required.
“It’s very disappointing and it sucks right now,” Draisaitl said. “We have to make sure that we come back next season and understand how hard it is to win, what it takes to go on a deep run.”