After handing the Calgary Flames a convincing 4-1 loss two nights before in Edmonton, the Edmonton Oilers started their next game against the Flames as if it would be another easy task to defeat their provincial rivals.
The Oilers began the game chasing the puck around in their own end and allowed the Flames to jump out to an early 2-0 lead. The Flames gave the Oilers a little taste of their own medicine in the early going, as Flames’ forward Matt Stajan collected a couple loose pucks in front of the Oilers’ net and scored on the Flames’ first two shots. But lately, the Oilers have been a potent offensive team and they proved once again to be too much for the Flames to handle. After the uninspired start, the Oilers’ offense caught on fire (no pun intended), scoring eight unanswered goals and embarrassing the Flames 8-2 at the Sattledome in Calgary on April 3. The Oilers have now won five straight games and have moved into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
But it’s true; the Oilers were a sleepy team at the beginning of the game. They woke up halfway through the first period and began to dig their way out of the 2-0 pit they created for themselves. Mike Brown attempted to turn the momentum around when he and Steve Begin threw some rapid-fire punches at each other in a brief bought between the two fourth-liners. However, it wasn’t physicality that turned the game around for the Oilers in this game. The Oilers are a noticeably smaller and less physical team than most teams in the NHL. The difference now, compared to earlier in the season when the Oilers were losing, is the teams’ choice to make the right plays at the right times—like dumping the puck in and driving wide to the net instead of attempting fancy plays at opposing teams’ bluelines.
Lennart Petrell made the right play on the Oilers’ first goal when he rushed in off the wing towards the Flames’ net and his missed attempt on goaltender Joey MacDonald ricocheted back to Jeff Petry at the point. Sam Gagner, standing at the edge of the crease, tipped in Petry’s wrist shot to put the Oilers on the board at the halfway point of the first period.
The Oilers continued to present a spirited effort against their provincial rivals. A few minutes after the Gagner goal, Ryan Whitney snuck in from the point and buried a sweet one-time pass from Taylor Hall to tie the game at two. The Oilers began to take over the game and had a plethora of scoring chances to close out a highly entertaining first period. They outshot the Flames 14-4, but the score remained tied after the opening twenty minutes of play.
The game’s momentum had taken a drastic swing in the Oilers’ favor in the latter half of the first period and it continued to be on the Oilers side for the rest of the game; the Oilers never looked back. The Flames appeared to give up all hope as the second period commenced. They stood around in their own zone watching the speedy Oilers get chance after chance on MacDonald. Three minutes into the middle frame, the Oilers went to work on their second power play of the evening. After a few chances in close on the power play, Russian-rookie Nail Yakupov blasted in a one-time pass from Gagner and put the Oilers ahead on the scoreboard for the first time in the game.
Later on in the period, Hall scored one of his easiest goals on another Oilers’ power play after a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ pass to the slot deflected to Hall, who simply shot the puck into the wide-open side of the Flames’ net. Moments later, Flames’ defenseman Chris Butler punched Jordan Eberle in the face and sent the Oilers right back on the power play. Nugent-Hopkins made Butler pay for the ridiculous penalty when he collected a rebound at the side of the net and wristed a shot top shelf over the glove of MacDonald—5-2 Oilers.
The Oilers continued to work away at the Flames until the color of the Calgary players’ faces matched the color of their bright red jerseys. Frustrated were the Flames because even when they managed to get chances to score, the Oilers were diligent at getting in the way of Flames’ passes and shots.
Despite the lack of shots by the Flames, Devan Dubnyk helped maintain the Oilers’ lead with some fantastic goaltending. Early in the third period, Dubnyk made a spectacular pad save to deny Roman Horak and keep the Oilers’ three-goal lead. The more the Flames felt the game was out of reach, the more violent the got, picking fights and dishing out cheap shots to the Oilers’ forwards.
But the sore losers would not deter the Oilers. Halfway through the third period, the Oilers continued to prove their worth on the scoreboard. At 9:56 of the final frame, Nugent-Hopkins flipped a wrist shot in on the Flames’ goal and the puck bounced to Eberle, who wristed another easy one by MacDonald. With only three minutes remaining in the game, Eberle scored again after he received a perfect pass from Hall and slid the puck past the sprawling Flames’ goaltender. To add to the Flames’ embarrassment, Yakupov scored his second goal of the game with less than a minute to go and the Oilers thumped the Flames 8-2.
Hall finished the game with five points (one goal, four assists) and Nugent-Hopkins appears to have found his game again with a four-point game (one goal, three assists). Eberle has also recently discovered his scoring touch again and finished this game with two goals. Hall has 15 points in the last six games and leads the team in scoring with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists).
All of the Oilers’ young guns are getting hot at the perfect time. Watch out Vancouver Canucks!