EDMONTON – It wasn’t much of a season, but the Edmonton Oilers managed to go out with a show-stopper to honour Ryan Smyth.
Taylor Hall had three assists to hit 80 points on the season as the Oilers celebrated veteran forward Smyth’s final game in style, coming away with a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
“It was a special night,” said Hall.”To get a win and a nice win was great. Smitty wanted to go out on a win and a high note. That was his message before the game. We won it for him and it was good to see. It was a night I will never forget.”
Roman Horak, Jeff Petry, Will Acton, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for the Oilers (29-44-9) who snapped a two-game losing skid in their final game of the season.
The win moved the Oilers up a draft spot, as they leapfrogged the Florida Panthers into 28th place overall with Tuesday’s NHL draft lottery looming.
The fans, however, were more interested in seeing Smyth go out on a win after a career that saw him total 386 goals, 456 assists and 842 points in 1,270 career games. Smyth, was unable to get the power-play goal that would have given him the franchise record, remaining in a tie with Glenn Anderson at 126 for his career.
Smyth was loudly cheered all night and no show of respect could have been bigger than the Canucks players coming back out on the ice to shake his hand after the final whistle, before the sobbing Alberta native said goodbye to his coaches and teammates.
“I soaked every moment of it in,” Smyth said. “It was an awesome experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of putting on this jersey, and any jersey in the NHL. To see the fan appreciation form the start to the end…they are the best fans in the world. I am thoroughly honoured to stand up here today and say I enjoyed every moment.”
Shawn Matthias and Zack Kassian replied for the Canucks (35-35-11) who have not had a strong finishing run to their season, losing six of their last seven with one game still to be played.
“We gave them too many primary scoring chances and a team like that they’re going to score,” Kassian said. “We got a lot of shots, but we didn’t get a lot of scoring chances for us.”
However, even the Vancouver players were mainly interested in talking about Smyth’s final night and how they were glad to be able to go up to him after the game and pay their respects.
“We talked about having to do something for him,” said captain Henrik Sedin. “He’s been such a big part of the Oilers, you talk about a lot of big names and he’s up there with the best. It was fun to be a part of it.”
“It’s terrific,” added Canucks coach John Tortorella. “That’s what you love about our athletes in our game, it’s that mutual respect amongst one another after the game is over. Ryan Smyth deserves that and I thought our guys handled themselves very well.”
Edmonton started the scoring just 2:14 into the game as Steven Pinizzotto made a pass from behind the net to Horak in the slot and the recent AHL call-up rifled his first of the year past Canucks starting goalie Jacob Markstrom. The assist was Pinizzotto’s first-career NHL point.
Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens withstood a barrage of early shots to keep Vancouver off the board and as a result Edmonton made it 2-0 with seven minutes left to play in the first. Nugent-Hopkins was able to get the puck to a pinching Petry in front and he beat Markstrom high to the glove side for this seventh of the year.
Vancouver out-shot the Oilers 18-5 in the first period.
Oddly enough the Oilers also scored 2:14 into the second period to make it 3-0 as a Philip Larsen shot hit a stick in front, but the clearing attempt went directly to Acton, who zipped home his third of the season.
The Canucks got on the board five-and-a-half minutes into the second as Scrivens attempted a diving poke check on Matthias, but the momentum carried the puck into the net anyway to make it 3-1.
Edmonton made it 4-1 with four minutes left in the second as Eberle tried to hit Smyth in front for this record-setting power-play goal, but the puck caromed in off defender Alexander Edler instead.
“On the replay, we thought maybe he spun around and hit it,” Eberle said of the hope that Smyth would be credited with the goal. “We were hoping that it was his. We were trying to do everything we could to get the puck to the net for him so he could tip it. We tried so hard.”
The Oilers took a four-goal lead a minute-and-a-half into the third period after a Martin Marincin shot created a scramble in front and Canucks defender Nicklas Jensen inadvertently chipped the puck off the skate of Nugent-Hopkins and in.
The Canucks made the score look a little better with a goal by Kassian with just 11 seconds left in the game.
Vancouver out-shot Edmonton 42-22 overall.
The Canucks still have one game left to play before their season is officially over, returning home to play the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Edmonton is now officially done, missing the playoffs for a league-high eighth straight season.
Notes- It was the fifth and final game of the season between the divisional rivals. The Canucks won the first three games by a combined score of 12-3 before Edmonton won the fourth match-up 4-2 on Jan. 27…Smyth concluded his NHL career after spending 15 of his 20 seasons in the league for the Oilers, ranking second on the franchise’s all-time list with 971 games played. He was given the Oilers captain’s ‘C’ for the game…It was Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 21st birthday…College free agent forward Michael Zalewski, who signed with Vancouver on Mar. 14 after playing this past season with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, played his first NHL game… Out for the Canucks were defencemen Christopher Tanev (broken fingers) and Andrew Alberts (concussion) and center Mike Santorelli (shoulder surgery)…Absent with injuries from the Oilers lineup were forwards Sam Gagner (ankle), Nail Yakupov (broken ankle), Ryan Jones (torn PCL), Boyd Gordon (shoulder), Jesse Joensuu (high ankle sprain) and Luke Gazdic (shoulder), as well as defenceman Andrew Ference (pectoral tear).