SAN JOSE, Calif. — Winning the Connor McDavid lottery two years ago was the key moment in the turnaround for an Edmonton Oilers team that had spent most of a decade at the bottom of the standings.
But after McDavid put together an NHL-leading 100-point season to lead Edmonton back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Oilers showed they have a lot more than just the league’s next great superstar.
McDavid scored his only even-strength point of the series with an empty-netter in the final second of Edmonton’s 3-1 series-clinching victory in Game 6 on Saturday night. He contributed plenty in other ways and got lots of help to send the Oilers into the second round against Anaheim.
“It’s not about winning the scoring title in the playoffs,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Connor was tremendous. His line was excellent. They played with tenacity and they wore the other team down so the other lines could go out and create some offence. I don’t see it that way at all. I know there’s a big story there and everybody loves to write about the leading scorer is not scoring this or that. I just don’t see it that way.”
McDavid ended the series with one short-handed goal, two secondary assists on the power play and the empty-netter as his production was a far cry from his prolific regular season numbers.
“I know the media makes a big deal about points and that stuff and goals and whatever. That’s my job obviously. I’m the guy that’s supposed to produce and do that,” he said. “But there’s different ways you can contribute in a hockey game, especially in a playoff game where there’s tight checking. You’ve got to play within the system as well. It’s a good learning experience for me.”
The Sharks spent almost the entire series shadowing McDavid with shutdown defensive pair Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. While they were mostly effective at the job, the Oilers were content exploiting other matchups.
That led to production from some lesser-known players. Zack Kassian delivered game-winning goals in Games 2 and 3, David Desharnais had the assist on the game-tying goal late in regulation in Game 5 and then scored the overtime-winner in that game and Anton Slepyshev scored the game-winner in the clincher.
The three players who scored the game-winners had just 13 goals during the entire regular season.
But the biggest difference for the Oilers this season from their decade-long drought was on the defensive end. Outside of a 7-0 loss in Game 4 that featured four power-play goals, Edmonton played a strong game in its own zone.
The young defence limited San Jose’s chances as McLellan’s system takes shape in his second year as coach.
“It’s been a long road, but enjoyable,” forward Jordan Eberle said. “It’s funny how you think about when you came to the league and this style of play we’re playing now. We’ve really changed our game as far as defensively and tried to work on making the right plays. I think we did that for the most part in the series. Hopefully we continue that.”
Next for the Oilers is another veteran, playoff-tested team in the Ducks. Anaheim swept Calgary in the first round and has posted a 15-0-3 record over its last 18 games.
Edmonton will have a few days to heal up some wounds and get healthy from a flu bug that slowed Leon Draisaitl early in the series and forced defenceman Oscar Klefbom to miss the third period of the finale before facing Anaheim.
“In my opinion we’re playing with house money and sometimes that’s not a bad thing,” McLellan said.