EDMONTON — You beat the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning both times you face them this season. Once when they were on a back-to-back, the other time when you were.
On Thursday, you get past the National Hockey League’s premier organization 5-3 in a game that was tied 3-3 after 40 minutes. You outlasted the Lightning in a game that oozed skill, but was equally as rich in edge and toughness with a couple of scraps and all kinds of delicious, semi-dirty hockey.
And the goaltending? Oh yeah.
You’re getting enough goaltending these days to beat the best goalie in the world two times — both wins from Jack Campbell. Meanwhile the other guy, Stu Skinner, is going to the All-Star game.
Suddenly you’ve won five straight games, and there are eight games between here and the next time you play against a team that is currently in a playoff position.
Yes, fans have waited a while here in Northern Alberta.
But finally, ladies and gentlemen, your Edmonton Oilers have arrived.
“When you typically think of the Oilers it is all skill,” began two-goal man Zach Hyman. “But we have some grit to us now, which is a good thing.
“You want to play against the best and (the Lightning) are a really, really good team. They are passionate and play with an edge, and we matched that and brought our own edge.”
Tampa is the gold standard, and the champs used every trick they’ve learned over the years to turn this game their way.
Pat Maroon gave it to his old linemate Connor McDavid, earning him a scrap with Klim “Drago” Kostin. Nikita Kucherov blasted Evander Kane right in the numbers, and Corey Perry took on Darnell Nurse in a fight, just for fun.
In the end, the Oilers gave as good as they got, and McDavid turned the game with a typically marvellous goal, speeding around Ian Cole and beating Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game-winner.
“Most guys don’t score that,” said Bolts head coach Jon Cooper, “but he finds a way to do those things. That’s why he’s a special player.”
“The confidence has grown in the group,” deflected McDavid, who has an incredible 39 goals and 85 points in 46 games this season — 14 points ahead of Draisaitl in second place and 21 ahead of Kucherov in third. “You can feel it on the ice, you can feel it around the room. The confidence is a big thing.”
Lopsided wins against Anaheim and San Jose is where confidence germinates. Walking into Vegas and beating the Golden Knights, followed by home ice wins over red-hot Seattle and this Tampa outfit is where confidence blooms into something tangible.
Third periods where you enter tied at 3-3, and walk out with a two-goal win? You can talk about those all you want.
Doing it is an entirely different thing, and the Oilers have grown a true backbone here, winning third period after third period since the Christmas break.
“We’ve talked about that a little bit in the locker room,” said Derek Ryan, who subbed on to McDavid’s line in the third and acquitted himself exceptionally well. “Going into third periods, we feel like we have a chance to be mature, be professional. That’s been a little bit of a stigma the last season, maybe a little bit in earlier parts of this season, where we weren’t having the best thirds. Our mentality has changed a little bit and it’s been nice to see.”
Over this five-game winning streak, Edmonton has outscored their opponents 6-3 in the third period — but that tells only part of the story. Of those three goals against, one came with the score 7-0 for Edmonton, and another with the Oilers leading 6-1.
So, one meaningful third period goal in five games, and 10 points to show for it.
“This stretch has been huge for us confidence-wise,” Ryan said. “Just getting to our game, our identity. The way we know we have to play to win games. And tonight’s a special game against a really good team coming in here.
“To go out there and — especially in the third — really lock it down. Connor scores a big goal for us, and to win the game playing the right way is huge for us.”
Campbell was very good, on a night where Natural Stat Trick had the high danger chances at 13-12 for Tampa. Campbell has played every minute of this five-game skein, and Edmonton appears to have what is required in today’s NHL, a tandem that can win no matter which ‘tender gets the start.
It’s starting to settle here in Northern Alberta, where an Oilers team that made the Final Four last season was, not so long ago, fighting to be a playoff team this season.
There’s a ways to go yet, sure.
But Edmonton’s game is here. It has arrived.
And it’s not a bad game.