<insert obligatory DeLorean joke here>
Flash back with us on this carefree Friday to the seventh game of the 1998 Western Conference Quarter-Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado was a powerhouse during this time, having won the 1996 Stanley Cup (and would later go on to take the 2001 Cup with some guy named Ray Bourque).
The Avalanche boasted some of the league’s top talent in Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy between the pipes. There was a Lemieux in there somewhere as well.
The Oilers certainly didn’t have the same name recognition as the Avalanche, but they did have a Cujo, a Weight, a Zelepukin, and a Hrkac.
Statistics are fun! Here are some statistics about this series. Their usefulness will vary.
- The Oilers had been outshot in five of the six games played so far in the series.
- After winning the first game of the series, the Oilers dropped the next three. The club saw victory in games 5 and 6, forcing a game 7 at McNichols Arena in Denver.
- “Hrkac” rhymes with “Circus”
- The Oiler defence had a goal in each of the first six games in this series. I wonder what Janne Niinimaa is doing today…
- Avalanche backup netminder Craig Billington saw thirty six seconds of playing time in this series.
- Curtis Joseph had been pulled after allowing four goals in 21 shots of the second game, but posted a shutout in game 6.
So as you can see, this is some pretty high drama. So high in fact, that Janne Niinimaa and Doug Weight took down Peter Forsberg almost as soon as they saw him step on the ice (Actually, it was thirty nine seconds after the puck was dropped). Niinimaa went to the box, and the Avalanche continued their uncharacteristically poor power play (they were 0-for the series). Because Keith Jones doesn’t limit his fun to the broadcast booth, he took it upon himself to take a penalty on behalf of the Avalanche about two minutes later.
And that’s when Janne Niinimaa sprung into action.
The aformentioned Tony Hrkac took a pass from Dean McAmmond while behind Patrick Roy. Hrkac dished it to Niinimaa who was more open than a 7-11 and buried it to the right of Patrick Roy. Oilers had the early lead.
Colorado again had a chance on the man advantage when Oilers defenceman Greg deVries took a cross checking penalty, but the Avalanche walked away with nothing but a truncated power play when Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote took an obstruction call less than two minutes later. The Avalanche ended up with four power plays in the first period, yet were unable to capitalize.
The Oilers were being outshot once again, and looked to be lucky to get out of the first period with a 1-0 lead. With less than a minute left, Avalanche forward Stephane Yelle launched a shot to Curtis Joseph’s left. Joseph knocked it away with his blocker. The puck jumped out to Joseph’s right, when Dean McAmmond flung it up the boards near centre ice. Doug Weight was able to get it out near the dot, when fortune smiled upon Bill Guerin.
The next player to touch Bill Guerin after he sped to the net was Valeri Zelepukin, who gave him a hug after scoring a late first period goal.
The Oilers were getting outshot 12-5 at the end of the first, but they owned a two goal lead.
When the second period began, the Avalanche had to begin to feel the weight on their shoulders. They had to score next if they were going to make a game of this. Avalanche defenceman Aaron Miller took an obstruction-interference penalty just after the three minute mark, but Edmonton was unable to capitalize.
The Avalanche were unable to put a shot on Curtis Joseph through the first eight minutes of the second period. That’s when things got really fun. Avalanche defenceman Aaron Miller flicked the puck up near centre ice. Oiler forward Mats Lindgren was able to tip it off the boards past Avalanche forward Eric Lacroix, who was too busy playing the body instead of the puck. Kelly Buchberger was able to flick the puck over a sprawling Aaron Miller to Todd Marchant, who tipped it behind the all-star Patrick Roy.
If the weight was heavy before, a 3-0 Edmonton lead halfway through regulation time probably didn’t do much to alleviate it. Peter Forsberg took an interference penalty with six minutes remaining in the second period, but the Oilers ended the second with a 3-0 lead and twenty minutes to the second round.
At the end of two periods, the Avalanche led 19-13 in shots.
The third period began with a pretty heavy sense of urgency for Colorado. Sloppy play and an errant turnover from the usually-steady Sandis Ozolinsh saw the puck turn up on Kelly Buchberger’s stick at centre ice. Buchberger was able to get it up to Mats Lindgren, who was harassed by Ozolinsh but was able to slip it behind Patrick Roy for a four goal lead.
You could’ve stuck a fork in the Avalanche at that point, because it was over. The Edmonton Oilers had done the unthinkable in defeating the second ranked Avalanche. They came behind from an improbable 3-1 deficit, and finished by defeating the Avalanche on their home ice. The Oilers were the fourteenth team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
How about Curtis Joseph? Joseph turned aside 31 shots en route to his second consecutive shutout. No big deal, right?
The Oilers would face the Dallas Stars in the second round, where they were handled in five games.
But until you heard that final buzzer, you couldn’t count these Oilers out.
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