Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON — The Oilers learned plenty of lessons this spring.
And a team looking for a playoff breakthrough finally did just that.
Edmonton fought back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the opening round before disposing of the Calgary Flames in five to advance to its first Western Conference final in a generation.
The Oilers are now also keenly aware they’ll need to give even more if the once-proud franchise is going to reach its ultimate goal.
Artturi Lehkonen scored at 1:19 of overtime Monday as the Colorado Avalanche defeated Edmonton 6-5 to complete a four-game sweep and move on to their first Stanley Cup final since 2001.
“We’re playing hockey on June 6,” said Oilers interim head coach Jay Woodcroft, who took over from the fired Dave Tippett on Feb. 11 with Edmonton floundering outside the West’s top-8 seeds. “In order to accomplish that and be one of the final four teams, you’ve done some good things — and I don’t think we can lose sight of that. But there’s a lot more required in order to find a way to get to the Stanley Cup final.
“And then there’s more required to win the trophy.”
Cale Makar had a goal and four assists for Colorado, which climbed out of a two-goal hole in the third period before Edmonton tied it late to set up the dramatic extra-time winner.
“It’s a cool accomplishment,” said Makar, the first defenceman in NHL history with five points in a potential series-clinching game. “You’re making it to the biggest stage of the world in hockey. It’s exciting.”
Gabriel Landeskog added a goal and two assists, while Nathan MacKinnon, with a goal and an assist, Mikko Rantanen and Devon Toews also scored for the Avalanche.
Lehkonen chipped in two assists for a three-point night.
The trade deadline pickup’s sixth goal of the post-season came after he knocked down Makar’s point shot with his stick and then buried his own rebound. The goal stood after video review for a possible high-stick.
Lehkonen also scored in overtime of Game 6 for Montreal in last year’s semifinals to send the Canadiens to their first final since 1993.
“Kind of funny,” said the gritty Finn. “It was a good bounce. I got a tip on the first shot and it bounced right on my tape.”
Pavel Francouz made 30 saves for the Avalanche, who are into the final after three straight second-round exits.
“Such a hard trophy to win,” Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s a battle of attrition. No one gets through it without suffering a bunch of ups and downs and ebbs and flows to series, to injuries, facing adversity. It seems that the teams that get through that the best are usually the ones that are standing at the end.
“We’ve faced our share.”
Zach Hyman scored twice for Edmonton, while Connor McDavid, with a goal and two assists, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian provided the rest of the offence.
“There was no quit,” McDavid said as fans on the street outside Rogers Place cheered on their heroes. “But we let it obviously get away.”
A hobbled Leon Draisaitl had four assists, while Mike Smith stopped 36 shots as Edmonton saw its first trip to the conference final since 2006 come to an abrupt end.
“There’s no participation medal,” said the 40-year-old goaltender. “It’s very disappointing. It’s hard to get to this point.”
Teams taking 3-0 leads in an NHL conference final/semifinal are now 45-0, including 27 sweeps.
“It feels like it’s (we’ve taken) steps,” McDavid said after the Oilers made the third round for the first time in his career. “You look at a Colorado team that’s been in that situation many, many times. They’re knocking on the door right now.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but that’s all it is.”
Colorado will face either the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning in the final. New York leads that series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Tuesday in Tampa.
The Avalanche improved to 11-2 in the playoffs, including a perfect 7-0 on the road. Only six other teams in NHL history have strung together at least seven consecutive road victories in a single post-season.
“I’m proud of the group to get to this point,” Draisaitl said. “I don’t think anyone necessarily expected us to be here. With that being said, we expected to be here.
“And we want to be here and we want to (go) even further.”
Trailing 1-0 after Monday’s first period and with both teams almost sleepwalking through the second, the Oilers finally got going at 7:39 when Hyman beat Francouz with a backhand for his 10th goal of the playoffs.
Nugent-Hopkins gave Edmonton its first lead at 16:57 when he jumped on the turnover and beat Francouz for his sixth as Draisaitl, who was basically playing on one good leg since late in the first round, was getting treatment on the bench.
Draisaitl and Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse, who revealed he had been dealing with a torn hip flexor all playoffs, were described as “warriors” by Woodcroft.
“People laying it on the line,” said the coach. “There are a lot more (injuries) that haven’t been made public.
“I’m proud of them for being able to play with those type of limitations.”
After Hyman hit the post, Colorado rookie Alex Newhook was whistled for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass late in the period. Edmonton made the visitors pay when McDavid ripped his 10th past Francouz off another Draisaitl feed for a 3-1 lead with 1:06 left on the clock.
McDavid and Draisaitl are the eighth pair of teammates in NHL history to each record at least 30 points in a playoff.
Colorado got one back 31 seconds into the third when Toews’ shot hit Oilers defenceman Cody Ceci in front for the blue-liner’s fifth.
Hyman scored his second of the night and 11th overall on a 4-on-2 rush where his knuckling effort from a Draisaitl setup fooled Francouz at 3:55 for a 4-2 lead.
Edmonton should have been home and cool and getting ready to fly back to Denver for Wednesday’s Game 5, but Landeskog got Colorado back within one at 8:58 on a mad scramble with his eighth after Smith needlessly turned the puck over.
MacKinnon then tied it with his 11th on a shot upstairs with 6:30 left in regulation to set the stage for Rantanen’s go-ahead goal, his fifth, with 5:13 remaining.
But Kassian swatted home his second to knot the score once again with 3:22 left as the see-saw affair provided another twist before Lehkonen won it.
The Avalanche were without injured centre Nazem Kadri after he was shoved awkwardly into the boards by Oilers winger Evander Kane early in Saturday’s Game 3.
Kane, who leads the playoffs with 13 goals, was suspended for Monday’s must-win contest, opening the door for rookie forward Dylan Holloway — the 14th pick at the 2020 draft and one of Edmonton’s top prospects — to make his NHL debut.
The Oilers were also minus second-line winger Kailer Yamamoto for a third straight contest after he took a hit from Landeskog in Game 2.
Colorado got past the Oilers in four straight despite losing No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper and top-6 winger Andre Burakovsky to injury in Game 1 before Kadri went down Saturday.
Burakovsky returned to action Monday, while Kuemper served as Francouz’s backup.
The Avalanche have also dealt with the absence of top-4 defenceman Samuel Girard since he was injured in a first-round sweep of the Nashville Predators.
Edmonton used its speed and skill to beat the Kings and Flames to open the post-season, but ran up against an opponent in Colorado that played at an even higher pace coupled with tenacity and defensive commitment.
The Avalanche took a wild Game 1 by an 8-6 scoreline before shutting out Edmonton 4-0 two nights later and then picking up a 4-2 victory Saturday to push the Oilers to the brink of elimination.
Edmonton was short-handed for seven of the first 12 minutes in Game 3 — including Kane’s major for boarding on Kadri — and once again ran into early penalty trouble.
The visitors opened the scoring at 3:46 on the power play when Makar fired a shot through traffic for his fifth before proceedings eventually took a wild turn.
Now the Oilers turn to next year, proud of what they accomplished.
But also with first-hand knowledge there’s another level required.
“It’s very disappointing and it sucks right now,” Draisaitl said. “We have to make sure that we come back next season and understand how hard it is to win, what it takes to go on a deep run.
“And take that next step.”