If someone has told you recently that the playoffs have been boring, I guarantee you they are talking about the NBA playoffs. While the postseason basketball games have mainly been blowouts mired by important players missing big games, the NHL playoffs have been exhilarating and exciting.
The best example of the entertainment value provided by the NHL postseason has been the series between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. It has been the type of series that creates new hockey fans. It has been that good. The rest of the playoffs have also been incredibly entertaining but nothing has been able to compare to the Flames versus the Oilers.
It helps that there was already a history between the two games heading into the series. The Battle of Alberta is the name of the rivalry between the two Canadien squads due to their close proximity to each other. That added an extra level of intensity and hatred than usual for a second-round series. The best part of the postseason in any sport is always the increased competition so when a rivalry takes place in the playoffs it can get crazy, and that is exactly what happened.
There is no better way to kick off a series than having one of the best playoff games in recent memory. That is exactly what these two teams did when Calgary beat Edmonton 9-6 in the opening game of their second-round series. That game is one of the top-10 highest-scoring NHL playoff games ever. Whether it was the two Calgary goals in the opening minutes or the spirited comeback in the second period from Edmonton when the game looked out of reach, this matchup had everything you need in a high-scoring postseason affair.
There is no doubt that the game between those teams earned the NHL a ton of new fans that night. Watching some of the best players in the world put on a show like that (except for the goalies, who didn’t really play great) is always good for the sport. Witnessing a game where the puck seems to be going in the net over and over again is so much more fun for a casual fan than a 1-0 game. Having your jaw drop because another goal was just scored is the type of game that people remember.
If jaw-dropping performances are what you’re looking for in a hockey game, then this is the series for you. Connor McDavid just so happens to be playing in this series and he makes awe-inspiring plays with ease. He is the best hockey player in the world and it shows when you watch him on the ice.
There are a ton of great players that don’t completely captivate an audience when they perform but the truly legendary players do. Think LeBron James, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Patrick Mahomes, Shohei Ohtani. Those players make you notice them no matter what is happening in the game. McDavid is like that. He makes you hold your breath whenever he touches the puck because you believe that anything could happen. He looks like he is playing at a different level than everyone else and there are some world-class players on the ice with him. He makes plays like this look so simple.
McDavid has certainly been the star of the series, and rightfully so, but one of the reasons this matchup has been so great is because there has been incredible play from the other players. Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk have both notched hat tricks for the Oilers and Flames, respectively. Leon Draisaitl, who himself is one of the best players in the world, had a four-assist game in game three. You also have players with star power such as Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Darnell Nurse playing well.
Even after just three games of the series, the Flames and Oilers had already drawn a ton of attention. But then game four happened.
The Edmonton crowd was incredibly hyped for the game, knowing it would be a massive feat if the Oilers could go up 3-1 in the series. The energy was very high from the start and only got even higher when Edmonton scored a goal 21 seconds into the game. When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hit the back of the net off a huge mistake from Flames’ goalie Jocab Markstrom, it sounded like the roof was going to blow.
The arena got even louder when the Oilers scored a powerplay goal a little under ten minutes into the game, taking an early 2-0 lead. The goal came off a beautiful play by McDavid to get open in the middle of the attacking zone and get a shot on goal. Zach Hyman finished the play by getting the puck into the net and doubling his team’s lead.
It seemed like the game was all but over when Edmonton scored a third goal in the first period. This one was a screamer from Kane, who notched his league-leading 11th goal of the playoffs. the Oilers had to feel very confident about having a 3-0 lead at first intermission at home in front of an absolutely raucous crowd.
But Calgary showed a ton of fight and refused to roll over and give up. They scored two goals in the second period just 36 seconds apart to give them a spark. They started out by getting a powerplay goal from Lindholm and then carried that momentum over into five-on-five. Mikael Backlund quickly cut the lead down to just one by putting the puck into the back of the net.
So just like that, we went from a 3-0 game that seemed all but over to a tightly contested 3-2 contest that was up for grabs in the final period. Then one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen happen in hockey happened.
Rasmus Andersson somehow managed to score a 132-foot goal despite Oilers’ goalie Mike Smith still being in the net. Long goals happen all the time in hockey but usually because the goalie is off the ice in favor of another attacker. So to see Andersson net the puck despite being essentially two-thirds of the length of the rink away was absolutely insane. Somehow, Smith never saw the puck in the air and was too late to react when he finally realized what was happening. Now Smith had to recover from that embarrassing play and get himself together because it was now a tie game with less than ten minutes to go.
Even though the score suggested that overtime was about to happen, this game never had that feeling. It felt like something was still going to happen. After everything that had occurred on the ice so far in this game, it seemed inevitable that there was something left to be done. That feeling was realized when Nugent-Hopkins sunk his second goal of the game, putting the Oilers up 4-3 with less than four minutes remaining. Eventually, Kane scored an empty-net goal to move the final score to 5-3 and, more importantly, move Edmonton’s series lead to 3-1.
The Oilers are now one win away from advancing to the conference finals and moving one round closer to the Stanley Cup. They could simply win the next game and be on their way to the next round but something tells me that is unlikely to happen. Given how crazy this series has been so far, it seems like there is still a lot more craziness to be had from the Battle of Alberta. Even if Edmonton does manage to advance in the next game, it will not come easy.
So, if you are a hockey fan and have been watching this series, good on you, keep it up. Maybe tell some of your friends to tune in too because they are missing something special. And if you are not a hockey fan then now is the perfect time to change that. If you make the switch now you will still be early enough that you won’t be a huge bandwagoner. If that is you then just do one thing for me, watch the next game between the Flames and the Oilers. If you watch that game and don’t instantly become enamored with the sport of hockey, then clearly this isn’t the sport for you.