The Edmonton Oilers have eliminated the Calgary Flames, winning Game Five in overtime to secure the team’s first trip to the NHL Western Conference final since 2006.
Analytically the Flames kept the series tight, often surpassing the Oilers in key statistics. Coach Daryl Sutter is known for defensively responsible 5-5 hockey, and that is exactly what the Flames produced. They led the Oilers in face-offs won, they out-shot the Oilers, they out-hit the Oilers, and the quality of their shots mostly matched that of their opponent’s.
The difference came down to two players, arguably the most important members of their respective teams — Connor McDavid for Edmonton, and Jacob Markström for the Flames.
There were signs of things to come starting in the first game of the series, overshadowed by an eclectic game the Flames won 9-6. While Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft elected to yank goaltender Mike Smith out of his net six minutes into the first period, Sutter let Markström suffer six goals on 28 shots against in the eventual win.
Oilers forward Zack Hyman scored twice on Markström’s glove side, and the team would continue to target that weakness. The Oilers scored four glove-side goals in Game One, two in Game Two, two in Game Three, and three more in Game Five. Markström finished the series with a .850 save percentage, compared to Smith’s .907.
Connor McDavid, captain of the Oilers and league-leader in total points, also foreshadowed his imminent dominance with a skillful deke to open the scoring for Edmonton. He finished the series with 12 points, evidently scoring at will.
His series winning overtime goal was a shot from the slot through Markström’s glove.
Flames fans had a fairly stressful post-season, all things considered. In the first round they faced the Dallas Stars and notably goaltender Jake Oettinger. Over the course of the series, Oettinger made 268 saves — the third highest total ever during a playoff series.
Some frustrated fans went as far as to conduct Amharic curses in an attempt to get an edge over the net-minder.
At the tail-end of that series, Flames officials also elected to make tickets mandatory to attend the Red Lot event, a viewing party held outside of the Scotiabank Saddledome. Tickets for Game One of the Battle of Alberta became available at 9:00 a.m., May 18.
By 9:03 a.m., they were all gone.
“[There was] nothing. Sold out, like a big name concert,” said Takumi Matsuura, a local Flames fan.
“I was shocked.”
Matsuura is originally from Japan, and moved to Calgary to work as an automotive mechanic. According to him, he became interested in hockey when a friend brought him to a Flames game.
“I have a soccer team in my hometown, but I love [the] Flames more than them”, said Matsuura.
The event would eventually be cancelled due to high winds which caused significant damage to the area, and the Flames media team announced they were cancelling the following two Red Lot events.
They re-opened the event for game 4, and again, all 5000 available tickets were claimed nearly immediately.
Arthur Gallant was one of the fans who managed to get a ticket.
“This is a hockey city. It’s so exciting to be able to have a team that does well [and] we can all get behind it,” said Gallant.
“More importantly, after the pandemic — I don’t like crowds, but I love the sense of community.”
Another heartache for Flames fans came in the third period of the final game of the series. In a situation oh-so reminiscent of the 2004 Calgary-Tampa Bay final, the Flames were the victims of a controversial call when Blake Coleman had a goal disallowed due to a “distinct kicking motion”.
“When you look at it from above, the angle definitely changes like quite a lot,” says Kim Michelle-Brown, an Oilers fan and St-Albert resident.
“Whether I could say it was a full kicking motion? I don’t know.”
The call will be sure to sow discourse in many Alberta homes for decades to come.
While the end result was no doubt disappointing, Flames fan can take solace in a team that far exceeded expectations from the beginning of the regular season.
“Keep your chin up and your chests out and walk out proud,” said Sutter in his post-game press conference.
“Did a hell of a lot more than anybody said they’d do. I mean, the team that beat us was a favourite coming into the year and we weren’t even close.”