It’s something we can’t escape. For as long as the Oilers have been terrible, there’s been a phrase repeated, non-stop: “The future is bright.” And even as we watched the Oilers get throttled by the Flames one last time in Rexall Place, a building that has seen better days both in general and on the ice, the mantra still repeated: the future is bright.
Is it really that bright in Edmonton, though? The only thing either of these teams had left to play for was pride. And the Oilers came out and lost 5-0, ensuring they would finish below the Flames in the standings for the 11th time in 12 years.
The games between the two teams had been relatively close throughout the season. Except for this time, as Edmonton did as they are wont to do lately: get thoroughly embarrassed. Farewell, Rexall. This was a pleasant goodbye.
Right from the beginning Joni Ortio showed he was here to play. He came out of his net, aggressive and challenging, and thwarted the Oilers – albeit to the extent of a call going against his team. T.J. Brodie was called for tripping Jordan Eberle, but it was more Ortio’s stick as Eberle cut in front of the net that resulted in the infraction.
Alas, the Flames were left without their top defenceman for the kill. No problem, however, as it was… Deryk Engelland to the rescue?
This was a great joint effort from Jooris and Engelland on the zone entry they help break up.
Which led to a SHG. pic.twitter.com/Uw4bkJAV69
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) April 3, 2016
This was nice. pic.twitter.com/DxHvM25mQz
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) April 3, 2016
Engelland helped prevent the zone entry, which allowed Josh Jooris and Mikael Backlund to advance up the ice, resulting in Backlund’s 40th point of the season as he scored shorthanded to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead.
That was about it for a while. The Oilers had extensive pressure following the Flames’ goal: pressure that forced Brodie into a 2:03-long shift as he was unable to get off the ice, and pressure that didn’t see the Flames get another shot attempt until eight minutes after Backlund’s goal. At one point in the period, they were being outshot 9-2 by the Oilers, and holding on by the skin of their teeth.
But then the Flames got their first power play of the game when Nail Yakupov high-sticked Lance Bouma. It appeared that they scored thanks to Dougie Hamilton’s point shot deflecting in, but the goal was quickly called off as Joe Colborne was ruled to have interfered with Cam Talbot.
The Flames had a strong end to the period, ultimately outshooting the Oilers 11-9, defiant of their ugly middle stretch.
The second frame saw the Flames get two power plays, both unsuccessful. Sure, they had the occasional chance – and they seemed to be getting closer to actually putting the puck in the net with each ensuing power play – but there were still no goals to be found.
At least, not until Colborne redeemed himself. Not on the power play, but at even strength, as Jyrki Jokipakka initiated the Flames’ rush up the ice, and a perfect pass from Backlund to Colborne saw the Flames take a 2-0 lead as Backlund picked up his 41st point of the season, and Colborne, the 100th point of his career.
And then the Flames got their fourth power play of the game, and it, too, was unsuccessful. Ortio kept up his strong play when called upon, though, and the Flames had a 2-0 lead going into the final frame at Rexall Place.
In which they wasted no time extending their lead to 3-0. Micheal Ferland replaced Hunter Shinkaruk on the top line, and some crashing and banging around the net courtesy of him, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau saw Gaudreau pick up his 29th goal of the season.
And then the Flames got their fifth power play of the game – and fifth time was the charm, as Gaudreau tucked in his 30th of the season from the very same spot, giving the Flames a 4-0 lead.
The party was short-lived, as Sam Bennett hooked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, giving the Oilers a power play. The party came back, as Ortio stopped not one, not two, but three golden chances on the kill – and then, just as the penalty expired, Backlund went in on a breakaway and scored his second of the game, making it 5-0.
And then Nugent-Hopkins went off for hooking Brodie, giving the Flames their sixth power play of the game. One they weren’t taking seriously at all, as it resulted in Brandon Bollig (yes, he was on the power play) and Matt Hendricks nearly fighting, and both getting tossed from the game. A much more normal power play unit came out after, featuring both Gaudreau and Backlund, but again: no scoring on the power play, other than that one time.
The game closed out with Backlund and Gaudreau unable to get the hat trick, but Ortio picked up the second shutout of his career as the Flames left Rexall for the last time, seranated by the most beautiful of sounds: the Oilers getting booed off the ice.
Why the Flames won
Ortio set the tone from the very beginning, playing aggressive and stopping pucks from the get-go en route to a 28-save shutout. Throw that in with the Flames capitalizing on the (non-power play) opportunities they got from the very beginning and the Oilers’ tendency to Oiler and, well, there you have it.
I’m going to cheat here and go with two guys: Joni Ortio and Mikael Backlund.
As stated above, Ortio was stellar throughout the night: from the first chance he faced to the penalty kill and everything thereafter and in between. When the defence let him down, he stepped up, and stopped everything in his way. He was on a mission throughout the night, and it showed.
But Backlund deserves a lot of credit, too, as he officially reached a career season. He scored shorthanded to open the scoring; he put an exclamation mark on the night as he broke away to make it 5-0. He hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career, and added two more for good measure. For a player who has been beset by injuries throughout his career, he’s had a healthy season – and a fantastic one to go with it.
The Flames have just two home games left this season. The first will be this Tuesday, April 5, as the Los Angeles Kings come to town for the last time. A year ago, this meant clinching a playoff berth. Today, not so much.