He barreled his way down the tunnel and burst through the doors that led to the Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place, right hand clutched to his mouth and blood pouring from his face - though he didn't feel much. The adrenaline coursing through his body took care of much of the immediate pain.
"There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going back out there."
Former Oilers forward Ryan Smyth was always a believer in leaving it all on the ice and, that particular night, he did just that. He left it all on the ice - including three of his bottom teeth and a fair amount of blood.
The refs scooped up the teeth and worked on getting the blood scrapped off the ice while Smyth went off to be attended to by the team physician.
Not 10 minutes later, to the surprise of many, Smyth reappeared on the bench, but not without several stitches in his upper lip. He was back out on the ice minutes later.
Even being familiar with number 94's tenacity - that stubborn persistence in his game that had come to define him as a player - no one expected him to be on the ice at that point.
The same could be said about the entire Edmonton Oilers team in May of 2006.
After squeaking into the post-season as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, only clinching their spot in the second-to-last game of the regular season, they were presented with the tall task of facing the first seed Detroit Red Wings in the first round. Led by team captain & future Hall-of-Famer Steve Yzerman in his last season in the NHL, the Red Wings were perennial contenders, and 2006 was no different.
The Oilers knocked them off in six games.
A sweaty Smyth conducted a walk-off interview after the series-clinching win. A playoff beard in its infancy dotted his jawline.
"All we wanted was a chance. You get in and you never know," said Smyth, encapsulating, in few words, the team's post-season mentality that year.
Despite a tilted matchup and clearly defined role as the underdog, members of the Oilers say they just had a feeling - they relished that role.
"We were obviously huge underdogs in that series, but we didn't feel that way," described former Oilers forward Fernando Pisani.
"It was a weird feeling in the dressing room, but a special feeling. We just knew we were going to win that series."
Round two brought on the fifth seed San Jose Sharks and the Oilers quickly found themselves down two games to none. In game three, they were trailing 2-1 in the third period, their backs against the wall and facing the prospect of going down 3-0 in the series - a veritable kiss-of-death. Only twice in the history of the NHL had a team come back from a three-game deficit in a playoff series at that time.
Oilers forward Raffi Torres netted the equalizer with less than ten minutes left in regulation and forced extra time. Enter a stitched up Smyth in triple overtime. A classic Smyth wraparound attempt popped loose in the slot and onto the waiting blade of Shawn Horcoff. He snapped it past Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala. Rexall Place shook to its foundation.
The Oilers won. The team, the city and the fans could breathe again. They could believe again.
That game defined the team's resilience that season. Just like how they waited until game 81 of the regular season to clinch the West's final playoff spot, it seemed the group's true identity emerged under pressure, and during that playoff run, the pressure brought out something everyone sensed was special - something intangible, something over and above the team's raw talent and dogged will.
"There was a commitment, a quiet confidence - not a cockiness but a confidence… Everyone knew that the group was something special," said Smyth.
"Everybody checked their egos at the door. Everybody bought in."
Despite having many competitive teams throughout the late 90s and several memorable playoff series against the likes of the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche, something was different on that 2005-06 Oilers team. The city, the country and eventually the whole league would soon take notice as well.
After taking Game 3 against the Sharks, they went on to win three straight and punch their ticket to the Western Conference Semi-Finals for the first time in 14 years. The buzz in the city was palpable. You couldn't drive two blocks without seeing an Oilers car flag waving from a passing car. When they scored, vehicles all over the city honked emphatically at red lights.
"It was something special. There was just something so positive about our energy that year," continued Smyth.
Beyond the team's ability to function as a well-rounded unit during their journey to the Stanley Cup Final, threads of unique storylines emerged throughout, adding to the magic of an elusive eighth seed underdog run.
Long-time Sportsnet reporter Gene Principe covered the Oilers that year and remembers clearly a particularly special post-season performance - one of many that made it all possible.
"Fernando Pisani had a run that borders on one of the greatest playoff runs by any player, let alone a player who was considered a role player," said Principe.
The term "clutch" is an epithet often used to describe fleeting moments of performance under pressure. Pisani embodied the sentiment in the spring of 2006.
After a regular season in which he tallied a respectable 18 goals and 19 assists, Pisani put together a phenomenal, albeit surprising, playoff run, scoring 14 goals and adding four assists in 24 post-season appearances. The goal total was less impressive than the timing of them.
Pisani was clutch.
For an Edmonton native taken in the eighth round of the NHL Draft, a round that has been eliminated from the event since, dreams of making the big club are oft far-reaching and unattainable. The soft-spoken, two-way winger grinded his way through the NCAA system, then eventually onto regular minutes with the Oilers in 2003-04 where he not only solidified his status as hometown hero during the 2006 playoffs, but became the poster boy for the Cinderella story.
Game 6 vs. Detroit, with the Oilers down 2-0 heading into the third, it was Pisani who scored twice to start the late-game rally to win the series.
Game 5 vs. San Jose, two more goals from the kid from Edmonton's north side, including the game winner.
Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Oilers down 3-1 in the series, Carolina Hurricanes go to the power play, with a chance to win it all. Pisani scores arguably the most notorious goal of the entire playoffs, and certainly of his career. It was the first time in Stanley Cup Final history that an overtime goal had been scored shorthanded.
While Pisani personified quiet, yet surprising, offensive confidence, it was Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson that matched it defensively in the blue paint.
The Oilers began trending towards the playoffs in the spring of 2006, but nothing was certain. The trade deadline brought about a unique opportunity to go "all-in," as then-Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe put it.
By acquiring Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom, the Oilers felt they shored up the back-end.
Next on the list? Goaltending.
In a trade that sent a first and third-round pick to Minnesota brought Roloson into the Oilers late-season fold. With only 15 games on his playoff portfolio and despite not getting a stranglehold on the starter role with the Wild that season, Oilers management believed they had their guy.
"I had never had the chance to be a starter on a team heading for the playoffs. I wanted that role, that pressure, that excitement," said Roloson.
Roloson jumped all over the opportunity, giving that playoff run another of its most endearing underlying stories.
The former Oiler netminder takes long pauses as he reminisces - as he sifts through a bank of memories over a decade old, but can be recalled in sharp contrast, despite some pangs of "what could have been" to go along with them.
"Coming from Minnesota, we were an expansion team and we had a close group. But when I got to Edmonton, it was unbelievable how tight that locker room was. You felt it right away." said Roloson.
The theme of intangible qualities emerges again as Roloson tries to remember what exactly gave that group success. The term "lightning in a bottle" comes up repeatedly.
"I think our 'bottle' was how close we were. And I don't think it was just our team specifically. It was the Oilers tradition. Not long after I got traded there, I felt like I had been there for 20 years, and I think that's a true testament to the city itself," said Roloson.
"I always said I would go back to Edmonton in a heartbeat."
Roloson was working with the Anaheim Ducks as a goaltending coach during the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline when the Oilers acquired Ducks forward Patrick Maroon. His mind was immediately drawn to his own experience when a very shocked Maroon came to discuss the trade with him.
"I looked at him and said, 'Patty, you're going to love the city. The fans are going to absolutely love you, for one, but you're going to love playing there too,'" said Roloson.
"There are not many cities that treats the players and rallies around their team like Edmonton does. That was another huge reason for our success in 2006. Teams always talk about the seventh man. Edmonton was our seventh man."
Anyone in the city that year can recall the atmosphere. Anyone lucky enough to be in the building might have trouble articulating the unique energy - an excitement that held thick in the air long before the puck dropped, and spilled out across the city after every game.
Trainers would come in and out of the locker room while the team sat waiting, ready. Every time the door would open the roar from the crowd was audible inside the room.
"The eruption when we'd score, it shook your whole body," said Pisani.
"The fans were unbelievable. I remember after we beat Detroit and I woke up and was getting ready to go to the rink, and someone had put a 16-foot wooden Oil Derrick right on my driveway. That's how fun it was in the city."
In Game 3 versus San Jose, long-time Oilers anthem singer Paul Lorieau gave an already-electric Rexall Place another one of its most iconic moments.
After the Canadian anthem was booed during Game 2 in San Jose, the Rexall Place faithful responded by loudly singing along to the American anthem. When it came time to sing O' Canada, Lorieau sung only two lines before holding up the mic to let the 16,839 fans packed in the building belt out the rest - a tradition he continued for every remaining home game of those playoffs. And one that's been replicated in other arenas since.
"As a player, you were just trying to get your mind set, but you couldn't help but just be in awe of the whole building singing the national anthem. It was a special thing," said Pisani.
One can't go over the notes of the wily 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers without underlining one of the most pivotal parts of the run, a key ingredient added during the 2005 off-season that seemed to set the Oilers down a path. And while his tenure in Copper and Blue was short-lived, the impact he had on the Oilers blueline that season cannot be understated. He was the crux.
"It was a new team for me, a new city and a fresh start, so to speak, after being in St. Louis for ten years," said Chris Pronger of his trade to the Oilers in the summer of 2005.
"And when I came into that locker room, I just sensed it was a group of guys who were ready to win. A lot of the guys had been there for a while and they were there for some tough years, but it was a group who always sacrificed for one another. When I got there, it was just another piece to complement what was already there," said Pronger.
As they trudged towards post-season contention, it was the "perfect storm" of unique additions added to the mix that Pronger recalls vividly.
"When you're bringing in new pieces, like myself or Mike Peca and eventually guys like (Jaroslav) Spacek later on, you're bringing in different successes and experience," said Pronger.
"When you intersperse those guys with ones who had been there for a few years, all of a sudden there's a culture change. And then you've got guys believing, 'hey we're a good team,'"
Pronger saw the buy-in emerge throughout the regular season and the capabilities of the whole team, new pieces included, came to a head as they journeyed into playoffs.
The team scratched, clawed, bled and played every minute for the guy beside them.
"That group always sacrificed for each other, they fought for each other. I remember Shawn Horcoff in front of the net during playoffs, he basically dove face-first at the puck to try and block it," said Pronger.
"It's things like that that went such a long way. When you're pushing each other and holding each other accountable with plays like that, that's what it takes for you to be successful against those teams that may be more talented or skilled on paper. For us as a group, playing for one another was going to get us over the top."
Pronger had a fiercely stabilizing presence on the Oilers back-end all throughout the season. He put up monster minutes, shut down opposing offence and could impose his defensive will on any team - everything you'd expect from a future Hall-of-Fame defenceman and eventual addition to the list of the greatest 100 NHL players of all time.
Amidst his defensive capabilities, sometimes lost was Pronger's penchant for offence, which was put on unique display when, he too, made Stanley Cup Final history scoring the first-ever penalty shot goal in a Cup Final.
After a scramble in front of Carolina's net, Carolina defenceman Niclas Wallin closed his hand on the puck inside the crease. Referee Mick McGeough blew the play dead and gestured emphatically to centre ice. The Oilers were awarded a penalty shot.
To many at the time, going with a defenceman on a penalty shot was an unexpected choice.
Pronger laughed as he recalled his first-ever NHL penalty-shot attempt.
"You do penalty shot drills in practice and if you score, you don't have to do extra skating. For whatever reason, I always scored," said Pronger.
"I think (Head Coach Craig MacTavish) just looked at his options and said, 'well, Prongs always scores on those drills, so let's go for it.' I guess it worked because I had to keep it simple," Pronger noted with a laugh.
The what ifs and almosts - the inches here and close-misses there that become magnified when a team comes one win short of taking it all - they're all apparent in the voices of former Oilers as they recall specific moments of a magical playoff run, something a few of them equate to picking off old scabs.
From losing Roloson to a torn ACL in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus Carolina, to rallying back from a 3-1 series deficit on the strength of a surprising performance from backup goaltender Jussi Markkanen, to losing by only two goals in Game 7, it all still stings over a decade later, and certainly not just for the players. Fans might still get tingles down their spine when allow themselves to reminisce, only to have the memories soured by Game 7. But there's an undying hope and eternal optimism that lingers in the background of every Oilers season.
That playoff run seemed to spawn a whole new generation of Oilers fans that got to experience first-hand what could happen when the team simply "gets a chance".
"I live in Victoria now and people who live out here that are from Edmonton, they still come up to me and say, 'remember what the city was like in '06?' They still look back so fondly and so clearly," said Roloson.
As the Edmonton Oilers gear up for their first post-season appearance since that magical run in 2006, a recurring sentiment emerges as the players who were there for the last one look back.
"I tell the young guys who come in here now, 'you're in for something really special when you get to the playoffs,'" said formers Oilers forward Georges Laraque.
"Get in and look out. Just wait and see what the atmosphere is like."