CHICAGO – When the dynasty Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s were still a team without a Stanley Cup, they had their famous showdown with the New York Islanders in the 1983 final. Once the Isles skated off with their fourth straight, the kids from Edmonton saw what it took to truly be a champion. Gretzky, Messier and the rest of the burgeoning crew took that lesson and rode it to glory the next year, toppling those same New Yorkers and starting a run of four Cups in five years.
The stakes were smaller in Chicago Monday night, but it may have been a great example of history repeating itself. The young Oilers came into the Madhouse on Madison with a chance to end the Blackhawks' record 18-game point streak to begin a campaign. In the end, Edmonton lost the 2-1 lead it carried into the third period and ultimately the game, in overtime.
“I'm proud of the character to come in here and take a point,” said first-year Oilers coach Ralph Krueger. “But we believe we could have won this one, too.”
It's a given that Chicago's rebuild is a perfect model for Edmonton and losing to the best team in the NHL on the road in OT is a moral victory, but it won't be for much longer. The Hawks were bad for years, garnering high draft picks such as captain Jonathan Toews and leading scorer Patrick Kane. As the team grew and other parts fit in, they took their lumps in the playoffs, then broke through and won it all in 2010. The Oilers aren't there yet, but our antsy nature wants to see it now.
This Edmonton squad still hasn't made the playoffs since the miracle run to the final in 2006, even though three first overall picks (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov) are in the lineup and two great scores (Jordan Eberle, 22nd overall in 2008; Justin Schultz, free agent last summer) add to the pot.
“This team from Edmonton, they've got a lot of young kids and some great skill,” Kane said. “I'm sure they're going to be pretty tough to deal with in the future. I don't think anyone is going to want to deal with them.”
But right now they're still learning lessons. The night before the game, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the prospect of Edmonton trying to skate with the talented Hawks, to match their speed. “We'll see,” was his response, equal parts bemused and cautious.
As it turns out, the Hawks had the Oilers on their heels for a big portion of the game. Whereas the Hawks created space for themselves offensively and didn't mind imposing on the Oilers' space (Andrew Shaw got right up in Eberle's grill on one memorable play), Edmonton seemed to respect Chicago's talent a little too much, allowing the Hawks to overwhelm them.
“They really are an amazing, powerful team,” Krueger said. “They're very strong on the puck, they never let up and there was a long stretch in the third period without any whistles where that's the most pressure we've felt from anybody this year.”
It would serve the Oilers well to at least get into the playoffs this year, even if they're bloodied and shipped out in the first round. The elite talent is there, it just needs to be surrounded by vets who can contribute and incubate while the young stars reach their peak.
Then they won't take OT losses to Chicago as a consolation prize.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.