The Oilers secured their first playoff bid since 2006 with a 2-1 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Kings
EDMONTON, AB - An eruption of epic proportions rose from the bowl of Rogers Place in the final moments of the Oilers 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Edmonton, a club that has not been to the post-season since 2006, punched their ticket to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the victory over their Pacific Division rivals.
"It's definitely special," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. "You saw the excitement in the building. Fans were excited, we're excited and there's a lot of work left to be done still."
"It's a special feeling tonight," said Oilers centreRyan Nugent-Hopkins. "A lot more work to be done but this was a big first step for us and we got the job done tonight. It was a good atmosphere out there and a good atmosphere on the bench."
The Kings wouldn't go down without a fight, outshooting the Oilers until deep in the third. Edmonton even had two goals taken away, but the visitors would never hold a lead, and the Oilers closed them out with physical play and more superb goaltending from Cam Talbot - who finished the game with 34 saves.
Edmonton was almost off to the races just 49 seconds in. McDavid raced ahead of his trailing defender and fired a shot on net. Jonathan Quick kicked the puck out into the slot, where Oscar Klefbom skated into it and slid the biscuit into the basket.
Patrick Maroon was posted in the crease and the Kings challenged for goalie interference. After an official review, the marker was taken off the board.
A few minutes later, Oilers defenceman Eric Gryba delivered a few consecutive hits on Kings forward Kyle Clifford near the corner. The two eventually dropped the gloves and wrestled to the ice. The game would contain several big hits as the up-tempo, playoff-style game unfolded.
Midway through the first, the Oilers netminder had to find the puck through a sea of bodies as Kings and Oilers alike crowded the crease. Talbot turned away two consecutive scrambles in front to keep Los Angeles off the board.
A few moments later, Talbot made a nice sliding save on Dustin Brown, who took the puck to the net with Edmonton blueliner Adam Larsson nipping at his heels.
With 6:21 left in the first, Oilers winger Drake Caggiula rifled a shot off the far post in what could have been the go-ahead tally.
In the end, it was the captain who was destined to score the big goal for Edmonton. McDavid came down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush with Patrick Maroon. McDavid shot the puck off the outstretched stick of Kings' defenceman Derek Forort and it flipped over Quick, finding twine. McDavid's 27th goal of the season, scored at 14:44, was assisted by Leon Draisaitl and Andrej Sekera.
A turnover in the slot in front of Talbot led to Jarome Iginla's 12th goal of the season. The veteran scooped the puck up and fired it past the netminder at 17:11 of the first, tying the game at one.
Edmonton scored on their second shot of the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Gryba shot the puck on net and it bounced its way past Quick at 7:03 of the middle frame. Darnell Nurse and Nugent-Hopkins each recorded an assist. The go-ahead goal was only Gryba's second tally of the season.
Nugent-Hopkins had an opportunity to increase the Oilers lead with roughly two minutes remaining in the second. The centre had a breakaway on Quick, but his shot ricocheted off the goalie's glove.
Kassian was thought to have potted the dagger just 2:08 into the third period, but it was waved off by the officials. The winger took a feed from David Desharnais and fired it past Quick, who couldn't get across the net in time. The play came on a delayed penalty, when the puck brushed against a Kings' player's skate and the referee called the goal off. A premature whistle took away a euphoric moment.
As the game wore on, Oilers fans were on the edge of their seats, erupting at every scoring opportunity their team had. They were hungry for that third goal that had so far been denied to them.
With 2:35 left in the game, Draisaitl snapped a shot on net from near the wall and it nearly fell out of Quick's pads, leading to an audible groan from the fans.
As the final minute of play ticked off the clock, the crowd rose to its feet. Talbot kicked away shot after shot from the desperate Kings, until finally it came to an end.
"We're extremely excited and happy for that group in there," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "There's a couple here who have been here through a lot of pain and couldn't be more excited for the opportunity that lies ahead of them. Maybe even more importantly, how about our fans? They've been there for 10 years, the rink has been sold out, they've gone through a lot of pain and they've stuck with us. I'm not sure that happens in any other city in the NHL, but it happens here in Edmonton."
With the win, Edmonton (42-25-9) has 93 points on the season and there is an X by their name in the standings. They ended the longest active Stanley Cup Playoff drought, which now belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes (2008-09). The orange and blue continue their pursuit of a divisional crown when they host the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.