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If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.
The Edmonton Oilers are now living a remake of that 1969 classic comedy.
Except it’s not funny.
It was a different hockey season that the Oilers experienced when they arrived in Montreal for their third visit within a span of two weeks. And it’ll be a different drive to the playoffs for the team and their fans coming off what looked like it was going to be a repeat of the empty effort a week ago in their first rescheduled game in the Bell Centre.
Outshot 14-2 at one point of the first period in which Devin Shore ended up giving Edmonton a 1-0 lead with 20 seconds remaining, this one didn’t have anything resembling a playoff feel for openers. But it ended up with the Canadiens to come back from down 2-0 to win their first of seven games in overtime 3-2, while the Oilers moved on with a loser point.
It was only two weeks earlier the Oilers flew to Montreal to begin a three-game series with the Habs. All three games were postponed because of a couple of Canadiens players testing positive.
It was only one week later they returned to play the first of those three rescheduled games the night after an overtime win to complete a pair in Toronto and produced their most empty effort of the season.
There were two more changes to the Oilers schedule before they took to the Bell Centre ice Monday. At least the Oilers found out about them more than 50 minutes before game time as was the case two weeks earlier.
Their scheduled Wednesday-Friday games in Ottawa are now Wednesday-Thursday.
And their road trip just got longer. They’ll now play three games in four nights and four in six before they return home, possibly to have two next week postponed against the COVID-19 crushed Vancouver Canucks.
It was announced that they’ll also have an added date Saturday in Calgary that was originally schedule May 7. The Canucks were scheduled to play in Calgary on Saturday.
It’s a schedule rewrite on the run.
What Edmonton is now experiencing is a stage of this coronavirus pandemic version of this historic NHL season when it is simply no longer the same escape and diversion as it had been for so many Canadians until now.
With the situation in Vancouver officially announced Monday to now be 17 players placed in NHL protocol quarantine with positive tests including the very scary Brazilian variant, it is no longer as easy to keep your focus on the puck for the players or the people that would normally occupy the pews.
The situation with the Canucks caused fans that have used the one-time creation of a 56-game all-Canadian Division to help get them through the stay-at-home stages of COVID-19 to become much less convinced that the game should go on to the traditional traveling of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
At the same time, the outbreak benched virtually the entire Canucks team, the focus went from the standings to the schedule in the North Division.
Both the Flames and Canucks were effectively, if not mathematically, eliminated from playoff contention.
And dealing with the schedule for the rest of this irregular season, for playoff positioned Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal, became arguably more important than playing for the positions.
Until the Montreal Canadiens three-game series at home against the Oilers resulted in the first games postponements on this side of the border, Canada had been largely spared.
Now getting through the final five weeks of the schedule, in the case of the Oilers, is going to be a significant test beyond the games themselves.
This isn’t the East Division with the NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, etc. where half the road trips don’t even involve a plane.
The Oilers went into this irregular regular season with the most air miles involved of the 31 teams in the league before the league decided to make up for two of the three postponed games in a Montreal by tagging them on to the end of the schedule.
Depending on the other schedule juggling ahead, that’ll leave Edmonton, the team that led the league with 33,940 kilometres, up to 40,000 of kilometres travelled.
It’s definitely a worry as the Oilers count down the final 17 games of the season as they make the 198-kilometre trip to Ottawa for the now Wednesday-Thursday final two meetings of the year looking for a 9-0 season sweep.
“Absolutely!” said Connor McDavid when I brought that up on Easter Sunday before the team left for Montreal.
“It’s not easy to fly across the country and play in different time zones and what not,” said McDavid. “It definitely takes a toll. But at the end of the day, you can’t have any excuses. We have to make sure we’re ready.”
Consider what the total might become if Edmonton were to end up in a traditional first round best-of-seven 2-2-1-1-1 first round series against the Canadiens and advancing to play Toronto in the Canadian Division Finals.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021