CALGARY, Alberta — Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft thought his team needed a boost.
He had a hunch how to get it.
The Oilers were one goal away from closing out a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Calgary Flames in Game 5 on Thursday night. Woodcroft went with his gut and swapped Zach Hyman for Evander Kane on Edmonton’s top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The gamble paid off. That line ignited and Draisaitl set up McDavid for the overtime game winner that sent Edmonton to its first Western Conference finals appearance since 2006.
“I thought we were a little sluggish as a group,” Woodcroft said after his team’s 5-4 victory. “Not just Connor, but as a group I thought we had more to give. Just flipping Kane and Hyman the way we did, I thought it boosted Connor and Leon a little bit and gave us a little bit of a spark. Doesn’t always work like that. Tonight it did.”
Draisaitl and McDavid fittingly connected on the winner, which came just over 5 minutes into the extra period. They had dominated the series offensively, combining for 29 points in five games. Draisaitl’s 17 points are the most ever scored in a playoff series between the Oilers and Flames.
In Game 5, McDavid didn’t feel his best, but in the end, that didn’t matter.
“I just tried to get my leg going,” McDavid said of scoring the series clincher. “I hadn’t been doing that well all night, so just focused on skating, got on the forecheck and got the puck to Leo. Know if I get the puck to [him], something good is going to happen. Tried to get open, and he made a great play as always, and I tried to shoot it on net and find a way.”
The game included a record-breaking span of goal scoring in the second period and a controversial overturned goal by the Flames’ Blake Coleman in the third.
Calgary built a 2-0 lead early in the second period, off goals by Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund. Draisaitl responded by teeing up Darnell Nurse to put Edmonton on the board. And then a messy rebound control from Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom provided an easy tap-in for Jesse Puljujarvi shortly after to even the score at 2.
At the midway point of the second, Calgary and Edmonton then reached a mind-boggling new height. Over the span of 1:11, they combined for the fastest four goals ever scored in a playoff game.
Hyman’s power-play marker started the landslide, giving Edmonton its first lead at 3-2. Johnny Gaudreau responded with an equalizer for the Flames, followed 12 seconds later by Calle Jarnkrok‘s go-ahead tally. In another 40 seconds, Evan Bouchard had Edmonton tied again at 4.
“It was a roller coaster, all right,” McDavid said. “To come out of there all square was big for our group. It gave [us] a chance to be one shot away in the third period and overtime.”
Calgary believed it broke the tie late in the third. Coleman appeared to score the Flames’ fifth goal, but it was overturned after an official review determined the puck was kicked in by Coleman as he fell to the ice. Calgary argued that puck was going in regardless, and Coleman didn’t have any effect on its trajectory.
The NHL situation room ruled Coleman had reached out with his skate to guide the puck.
“My understanding is that you can redirect the puck, you just can’t kick it,” Coleman said. “[I must not] understand the rule.”
“We thought it was going to be called that way,” Woodcroft said. “But you never know, so we’re fortunate it did go our way.”
When the game reached overtime, McDavid needed just over five minutes to light the lamp and send Edmonton home with a victory.
All told, Calgary and Edmonton combined for 45 goals through five games. That’s not how Woodcroft would have drawn it up, but he never grew nervous that Edmonton couldn’t keep its composure.
“I think the calm comes from our leadership group,” he said. “I just keep going back to the fact that we have the people in the room that can get through sticky circumstances, whether you play four minutes or 24 minutes, your contribution is valued. You’re important on our team. And we’ve said this before there is room for contribution of greatness from everybody. There’s a level of just commitment and grinding and tenacity that’s just required in playoff time.”
That carried Edmonton to victory in the first playoff iteration of the fabled Battle of Alberta in 31 years. The momentum swings were massive. The emotional buy-in was taxing.
But the payoff was, unquestionably, worth it.
“Right now, we’re going to enjoy this,” Woodcroft said. “To do this against your archrival and close them out in their building in the fashion that we did, we’re going to enjoy it. And we know that whoever comes out of that other series [between Colorado and St. Louis] is going to be a really good opponent.”