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It was sort of Connor McDavid’s “Mickey Mouse Organization” moment.
On a Zoom video morning skate session before Saturday night’s highly-hyped Game 8 of the nine-game Edmonton Oilers-Toronto Maple Leafs series this irregular season, McDavid volunteered that it was the first time he’d ever had the opportunity to play in Toronto on Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada.
“The league likes to sneak us through here on a Monday or a Wednesday night,” said the NHL’s greatest player. “It’s exciting. As a kid, obviously you watch Saturday night hockey and growing up in Toronto that was always the Leafs. It’s exciting to play in Toronto. It’s my first time.”
While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insists that next year there will be no Canadian division and we’ll be back to one visit a year by Edmonton to Toronto, the one takeaway from the Oilers overtime loss was that you can expect for the next several years it’ll be on a Saturday Night on Hockey Night In Canada.
And after Saturday’s overtime thriller, there might even be one or two more in the playoffs this year. The Oilers weren’t successful this night, but unlike the previous three meetings with the Leafs, at least they gave them a game — a game that lived up to the build-up.
Wayne Gretzky’s first moment stepping out and making a statement in his career involved calling the New Jersey Devils after the 13-4 Edmonton victory.
For the longest time there, it looked like McDavid’s quote may have played a part in what might have been considered a key moment in the modern day history of this hockey club if they hadn’t blown a two-goal lead late and lost the game on a goal by Auston Matthews in overtime.
The Oilers after three straight embarrassing losses at home to Toronto, battled back to get back in the race for first place and move into a tie with Toronto with 44 points. And then they fell flat on their face again.
The difference was that they waited late and got a loser point out of it.
Since the Leafs three-game sweep in Edmonton, the Oilers would have been 8-2 and Toronto 3-7 if they’d been able to close.
The Oilers, the team that leads the league in first-period goals but was out-scored 6-0 in the three games they lost to the Leafs in Edmonton, was outshot coming off their surprise six-day break but left the ice with the scoreboard reading 0-0.
And, instead of massive implosions on defensive turnovers and absolutely abysmal goaltending, the No. 1 reason the Oilers didn’t start out chasing this game early like all three back in Edmonton was just-turned 39 goaltender Mike Smith.
With five minutes to go in the first period Smith made an enormous save, diving across the crease to make it.
Still, once again the Oilers gave up the first one. Five minutes into the second Smith watched one go into the net that wasn’t so much ghastly as it was goofy.
It went in off the top of Smith’s helmeted head.
But unlike the one Smith gave up early in Game 1 of the Qualifying Series of the Hub City of the Stanley Cup playoffs or the ones both he and Mikko Koskinen alternated in giving up in the three losses to Toronto, it didn’t take all the air out of the Oilers.
Just over two minutes later, McDavid, who had been held off the score sheet for three consecutive games for only the third time in his career, made it 10 straight games putting at least a point per game since the embarrassments as the Oilers were outscored 13-1 by the Leafs.
McDavid set up Darnell Nurse for a league-leading 11th goal of the season by a defenceman.
McDavid made it a fourth consecutive multiple-point game and 22nd since the series sweep in Edmonton threading a pass to Draisaitl for his 19th goal of the season.
Then Draisaitl made it a three-point night setting-up former Leaf Tyson Barrie.
Whale of a story to that point for Edmonton even if the Oilers weren’t technically playing a whale of a game.
It all caught up to them in the end, gassing a two-goal lead and losing their first game of the season in overtime.
“At the end of the day, that’s not the type of team we want to be when you have a two-goal lead and give it up with seven minutes to play,” said Barrie.
The storyline switched to Matthews scoring the OT winner to move ahead of McDavid 22-21 in the league goal-scoring race.
The good thing involved here is that the Oilers weren’t looking for or finding any moral victories.
“We expect to play well. We have expectations as a group that we can play with anybody,” said Barrie. “It was a winnable game even though we didn’t play very well. We didn’t win it. So we’ll be back and at it again Monday.”
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