A season for the Calgary Flames that began with limited expectations that gradually increased as they proved themselves on the ice ended with a Connor McDavid overtime winner as the Edmonton Oilers won the first Battle Of Alberta playoff series in 31 years on Thursday night.
The post-game conversation was equal parts McDavid’s brilliance and the disallowed goal by Blake Coleman that would have given the Flames the lead with just under six minutes left in regulation.
Afterwards, there was confusion on the Flames –and in the hockey world–on the rule and what constituted a kicking motion.
"I don't think I understand the rule,” Coleman said. “[I was] getting pushed, just trying to keep my foot on the ice…I felt like I was in the battle. My understanding is you can direct the puck, but you just can't kick. I didn't feel I kicked it."
“Depends on what you call a distinct kicking motion,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter added.
Regardless of if Coleman had given the Flames another lead, the Edmonton Oilers were clearly the better team, despite allowing nine goals in the opener.
Edmonton’s best players were their best players, while Calgary’s left something to be desired. Leon Draisaitl had three more points (17) than Calgary’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk combined (14). Evander Kane added five goals in five games.
In their own zone, Calgary allowed far too much off the rush, was not nearly responsible enough defensively, and had several unforced errors and undisciplined penalties. They allowed the Oilers to come back at various points in the series, never showing the killer instinct Edmonton seemed to have in spades.
While Darryl Sutter spent time downplaying the McDavid and Markstrom effects, both played pivotal roles in the Oilers stunning victory. McDavid dazzled fans, teammates, and opponents alike with his masterful control of the game and raising his bar to another level. Not only was he dominant on the stats sheet with 12 points in five games, he was second on Edmonton with 18 hits.
"Hard to put into words what that one meant to me,” he said of his overtime heroics.
“It was real fun,” he said of the Battle Of Alberta.
“The fans were amazing in both buildings, especially in Edmonton, just the energy and vibe around the city has been amazing.”
“The best player won the series for them,” Sutter said.
Then there was Jacob Markstrom.
After Round 1 heroics versus the Dallas Stars and out-dueling Jake Oettinger, he was bested by Mike Smith, the former Flame. Markstrom’s brilliance was a huge reason Calgary shocked many by winning the Pacific Division –and his poor play during Round 2 was a major reason they were eliminated in five. Versus Edmonton, he had an 0.852 save percentage and allowed at least four goals in each game.
Afterwards, Darryl Sutter refused to blame his goalie.
“You guys [media] want to criticize,” he said. “He had a hell of a year. [He’s] one of our captains, one of our leaders. The team won 55 games. How many did he win? Most of them.”
Sutter shared a moment with Connor McDavid in the handshake line–no doubt sharing the aspirations of his own group.
“‘You’re in the position now to do something special,’” Sutter said, of his words to McDavid.
As for his words to his own group, Sutter told them to walk with pride.
“Keep your chin up, your chest out, walk out proud,” he said.
“They did a hell of a lot more than anybody said they’d do.”