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EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers stepped outside and were able to find their game, defeating the Calgary Flames 5-2 in the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday.

The Oilers entered the Heritage Classic having lost four straight (0-3-1), but they ended that losing streak by putting together one of their most complete efforts of the season, including their best third period thus far.

“The way we came out and asserted the way we wanted to play, it looked like us tonight,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “It looked like us and it’s a credit to our players. I think we have a lot of proud people in our organization among our players’ group, our coaching staff and our management, and no one’s been happy with the way we’ve started this season, collectively.

“I just think we got back to playing a certain way. We got good contributions and we played fast, we played hard, and we’re going to look to build on it as we go forward.”

The Oilers (2-5-1) benefitted from the return of captain Connor McDavid, who had missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury. McDavid had an assist in 23:26 of ice time in the win, but most importantly, he did not appear to have any lingering effects from the injury.

“Anytime you see your captain, or the head of our snake, return to the lineup, that gives everybody a little bit of a lift,” Woodcroft said. “I thought he played his heart out tonight. It’s a different type of game, the ice isn’t normally what it is, but I thought he was dangerous every shift. He pushes teams back with his speed, and I thought we had a lot of really good signs in his game.”

There were questions about whether McDavid would be able to recover in time to play in the Heritage Classic, which drew a sold-out crowd of 55,411 to Commonwealth Stadium.

McDavid sustained the upper-body injury during the third period of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 21. The next day, the Oilers said he would be out 1-2 weeks, putting his availability for the outdoor game in jeopardy.

“I’ve said this every day: Our staff is so good here in Edmonton from the top down,” McDavid said. “It was comfortable at all points of the game.”

McDavid had plenty of help in the victory against the Flames. Evander Kane had a goal and two assists, Zach Hyman had a goal and an assist, Leon Draisaitl had two assists, and Vincent Desharnais scored his first NHL goal to give the Oilers a 4-2 lead in the third period.

“Obviously, this was a big win for our group. We needed it,” McDavid said. “This was a big game for us if it was indoors or outdoors, so for us to get a win in front of all of our fans with the big spectacle, it made it even better.”

Outside of a convincing 6-1 win at the Nashville Predators on Oct. 17, the Oilers had struggled to put together a complete 60-minute effort this season.

That changed Sunday, when they got out to a 3-1 lead in the first period before putting the game out of reach for the Flames with their best third period of the season. The effort was reminiscent of the way the Oilers were able to close out games last season, when they went 50-23-9.

“I thought we got back to our foundation of how we like to play and how we need to play,” Kane said. “I thought we skated really well, I thought we were physical, and we got pucks and bodies at the net. If you look at the goals we scored, every single one of them was around their blue paint or creating havoc around their blue paint. That’s the recipe for success for our group.

“It’s easy to look back at our first seven games and see how we’ve played through them, and we wanted to get back to the type of team we are. We know we’re a good team in every period, and 3-2 going into the third period is a spot we envision ourselves in a lot of the time, and we need to understand how we need to play, and I thought we did a great job of that tonight.”

Now, Edmonton is hoping to use the Heritage Classic as a turning point for the rest of the season.

“I don’t know what it was that led to us more resembling ourselves,” Woodcroft said. “One of the things I do know is this team has won 100 games in the last two seasons. This team has played in five playoffs series over the last two seasons. We’ve done a lot of really good things, but for me, that’s the way we need to play, and we have to bring it every single day. That resembled who we were, who we are and how we’re going to carve a path going forward.”

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