Edmonton – At this point, wielding scotch tape, fishing wire, chewing gum and an ultimate challenge, Leon Drysettl jumped from his seat on the bench as Ryan Nugent Hopkins pounced on the failing Colorado fairway and roofed a rear bulkhead over Pavel Francos to give the Oilers their first lead in the game.
Draisaitl was smiling on the way. But then he plummeted, his face turning toward a grimace, and for a moment, you had to wonder if his ankle had finally separated from his foot for good.
It was tough watching Draisaitl in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Monday night. But it was impossible to get away. Every step, every axis seemed painful. He would wander around the neutral zone, then cautiously descend off the ice. He will be himself through a strange lunge, then slowly walk back to the bench. It was as if he would get a temporary relief from the pain from a shot of adrenaline, and then it would all come back the moment the play dies, the disc is frozen, or the goal is scored.
Then, with 3:32 left in the game and the Oilers’ season hanging by the same thread as his ankle, Driestel fired a Zac Cassian shot past Francos.
It was Driestel’s fourth assist of the match. His 32nd point from postseason. His third match of four assists in the playoffs.
on one leg.
It was painful. It was exhilarating. She was brave. It was crazy.
When Leon Drystel’s foot finally separated from his ankle, they’d send her straight into the Hall of Fame.
– Mark Lazerus 7 June 2022
And most painfully, it was not enough. In an interesting and intriguing case, the Colorado Avalanche advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 6-5 victory over Arturi Likonen’s goal after 79 seconds of overtime. Draisaitl’s one-legged tournaments are now just a marginal note of hockey history, an all-time post-season performance that ultimately proved fruitless. In the ruthless zero-sum game that is the playoffs, a brilliant season followed by another off-world season for Draisaitl and Connor McDavid becomes simply another lost year of primes for the illustrious duo.
Indeed, Draisaitl likely spent the summer resetting his timer once in a power game at 11:15 of the third period, when he had an open net to shoot at and instead hit off the post. Throughout the post-season, his temp seemed to suffer the most from his ankle instability, and he betrayed him for the last time at the worst moment imaginable. Two minutes later, Nathan McKinnon scored from the penalty area. So the 5-3 Oilers’ lead became a 4-4 draw. Seventy-seven seconds later, Mikko Rantanen gave Afs a 5-4 lead before Cassian set a rebound for Drysittel to send the match into overtime. But a one-time loss looms large, and it is the evolution of the fate of a player who deserves better.
Of course, it’s foolish to blame Draisaitl. Mike Smith’s misadventures, poor discipline, stagnating power, Evander Kane’s suspension, and the speed, depth and brilliance of the avalanche are all reasons to sweep the Oilers. Draisaitl, like McDavid, has been hard even carrying the team so far, and both have come up with performances throughout the ages. But great players can’t beat a well-built team with stars of their own, not in the ultimate team sport.
But if nothing else good from this series has come to Edmonton, let’s let Draisaitl’s performance be a consolation. Somehow both underrated And the One of the two or three best players in the world, Drysittle toils in the shadow of MacDavid, perhaps the most talented player to ever play the game. If there was a “quiet” season of 55 goals and 55 assists for the one-time winner of the Hart Cup, Driesitl had it in 2021-22. But while McDavid has been fantastic in all post-season, with 33 points and another three-point effort in Game 4, Draisaitl’s bravery, cunning, determination and greatness were superb — and worth remembering.
Draisaitl, of course, underestimated his status. Hockey does not allow for self-aggrandizement.
“There are a lot of men going through painful things like this,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this for myself. A lot of players get injuries.”
TRUE. But by all reasonable human reasoning, Drysittel shouldn’t be playing hockey. But hockey isn’t a reasonable thing, these guys are something more than mere mortals, and the only thought on their minds is that they might never come close to the Stanley Cup again. Hello, the pain is fading away. Championships forever.
It’s impressive in its quirky way, but of course it’s also not recommended. Hockey culture venerates such toughness, which only encourages players to shorten their careers by playing through serious injuries. Patrice Bergeron played Game Six in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final with a punctured lung, a cracked rib and a separated shoulder. In the same series, Marian Hessa was skating on a completely drugged foot due to a serious back injury. Interlude hockey is not for the rational and reasonable.
Now, there was another kind of toughness that Draisaitl and his teammates showed in this game. It’s something less identifiable, less tangible but everything that is equally important – mental toughness to keep fighting. After Cal Makar scored only 3:46 in the match, Oilers fans were very calm. The team’s third-best player, Evander Kane, was in the press box in an elaborately tailored suit. All writers were working on their elegies and autopsies. The series is over.
Not just 20 guys in dark blue shirts.
You know all the cliches.
One game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time.
You cannot win four matches at once.
All pressure on them.
The fourth win is always the hardest.
And you close your eyes every time you hear it, just as when a fiercely favorite team insists no one believes in it, just as when a star gets hurt and players calmly talk about having the same amount of confidence in the “next man.”
But that’s the thing. that they They really believed it. They are wired differently than we are. Whether it’s self-deception, naivety, or an actual, unmistakable belief in the self, they’re really thinking about the next game. Then the next after that. And the following after that. And suddenly, Game 7 and everything is possible.
“We’re the ones playing the game, right?” Oil defender Tyson Barry said before the match. “You guys can roll your eyes however you like. It’s for you. I’m going to go for a pre-game meal and get ready as we do every game. Don’t play three in a row, don’t play four in a row; it’s one at a time. For us, that’s just a fact.” Simple from what we’ve been doing all year. We’ll come ready tonight to win one game. And we know what we’re up against. If you look at the stats, it’s grim. But the only way to do that is how we’ve been doing it all year, and that’s one game at a time.”
That was Jay Woodcroft’s message when he first walked into the Oilers room as head coach on February 11, a date he mentioned multiple times on Monday morning. The Oilers were 23-18-3 at that point, fifth in the Pacific Intermediate division and only by one point over Seattle and Vancouver. They just fired coach Dave Tibbett. Another year of Prime McDavid and Draisaitl would have been wasted, vultures soaring in the frigid winter winds of Edmonton.
So just win the next match, he said. and then. And on and on and on.
They won the top five and never looked back.
“That has been the message since February 11th,” Woodcroft said. “You asked about slicing—that is, dividing things or breaking them into pieces. And when you have that ability, which has been rooted in this team since February 11th, you feel good about your choices.”
Well, maybe not Good, but for the two oilers it seemed possible. reasonable. maybe. When you can do the things these guys can do on a regular basis, the idea of beating the best team in the league four times in a row doesn’t seem too far fetched.
Which makes failure even sadder.
In the end, Otters was simply outdone. They made it to the quarter-finals, but in the end they would be relegated as only one of the 30 teams that didn’t make it to the biggest stage of the game that history will almost certainly forget. Nobody remembers which team finished fourth.
But Draisaitl–his skill, yes, but more than his will–will not soon be forgotten. The performances of the ages will continue, one legacy.
(Photo: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)