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Oilers take huge step despite Game 7 loss to Ducks

Fall one goal short after finishing with second-fewest points in NHL last season

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- How far did the Edmonton Oilers advance in the 2016-17 NHL season?

The Oilers lost 2-1 against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round at Honda Center on Wednesday, but coach Todd McLellan was thinking in different terms.

"The type of teams that we played, the series that we played in, the ups and the downs, we basically got a college degree in a month when it comes to playoffs and that experience for us moving forward is going to be very, very helpful," McLellan said.

 

[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Oilers series coverage | Game 7 win against Oilers a big relief for Ducks]

 

The Oilers eliminated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the first round and won the first two games in Anaheim before being slowed by the more experienced Ducks.

Edmonton scored the first goal in Game 7 from Drake Caggiula at 3:31 of the first period, but couldn't get another shot past Anaheim goalie John Gibson the rest of the night.

"It's going to take some time to get over it," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "There are a lot of positives we can take from this year. We won't have to answer that experience question anymore, which is nice.

"Come next season, we'll find ourselves in a similar spot, and we'll be able to look back on this, feel that disappointment, and know what that's like and how much that [stunk]."

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm7: McLellan on the Oilers' series loss

McDavid was already seeing the long-term picture after the defeat.

"You look at any team that's won and been good for all the years, and it starts with a disappointment," he said. "We took a huge step forward.

"If we'd have told you we'd have taken the Ducks seven in the second series back in September, I don't think anyone would have believed us for a second. We managed to do that. We can hold our heads high about that. Obviously it's not the outcome we wanted. I believed in this group. We'll be back."

Edmonton hadn't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006 and had 70 points last season (31-43-8), second-fewest in the League. It had 103 points (47-26-9) and finished second in the Pacific Division this season.

"I don't think anyone thought we'd be here, one period away from the conference finals," said goalie Cam Talbot, who made 28 saves in Game 7 and had a 2.48 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in the playoffs. "I'm proud as [heck] to be a part of this group right now and I'm looking forward to the future with this team.

"From last year, finishing near the bottom of the League, then this year, we came out strong and we grew as a group. You could see we took that next step this year. I don't think anyone thought we'd be here, one period away from the conference final, so I'm proud to be a part of this group and looking forward to a future with this team."

Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who had a major impact in the second round with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in seven games, said the education of this year's playoffs will be invaluable.

"We had a lot of guys who never went through something like this, and now we have guys who know how to deal with it next year if we make the playoffs," Draisaitl said. "I think that will help us a little bit. They had the experience factor on us again and we took them to seven games. One goal was the difference."

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm7: Ducks, Oilers shake hands at center ice

That the Oilers considered themselves a real threat this postseason, then lost Game 7 in the second round, left a painful feeling for defenseman Adam Larsson.

Larsson was an increasing force for the Oilers as the season wore on. His impact was felt as much in the playoffs, including his 44:58 of ice time in a 4-3 double-overtime win loss in Game 5.

"It's always some kind of emptiness when you lose," Larsson said. "We battled to the end and we fell short this time. I still think we can feel some pride in this group. We did a lot of good things throughout this year, but obviously it's tough right now.

"We felt we had the team to go even longer than this. It's disappointing that we didn't get it done, but we still took a lot of steps this year and it really [stinks] right now."

McLellan said that despite coming so far in one season and surprising many people, he didn't want anyone to think the Oilers weren't disappointed.

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm7: Caggiula chips puck past Gibson

"We didn't come into the playoffs just to play, we came in to win," he said.

But the future is going to make waking up on Thursday a little easier, one would suspect.

"It wasn't long ago we talked about just coming into these buildings during the regular season and trying to survive," McLellan said. "Now we can push and compete with these teams. So we're going in the right direction. We've done a lot of really good things, gained a lot of experience.

"I think what we did in the second round was we solidified an identity of a pretty scrappy, resilient, never-die team. There's still a little bit of inconsistency in our game, but we'll grow up and we'll fix that as we move forward. The one question that I had and that I think is answered, we weren't afraid of the stage. We were willing to come out on it and perform. For an inexperienced team from Day One, that's a good sign moving forward."

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