With a Stanley Cup berth within reach, the Oilers are ready for now –

With a Stanley Cup berth within reach, the Oilers are ready for now –

EDMONTON — When hockey players tell you, “You only get so many opportunities like this,” it really is a bit of an overuse.

Because as long as you can make the National Hockey League playoffs, as evidenced by those eighth-place finishes by the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, there will be opportunities.

A puncher’s chance. A flea and a chair. Name your shot.

However, the waters eventually narrow and this opportunity culminates in an instant. And this is where the contenders are eliminated.

A moment like Game 6 against Vancouver. Down 3-2 in a series, your season is on the line in a nervous Rogers Place.

And if you’re ready for this moment and you succeed, then you qualify for the next one two nights later: a Game 7 on the road, in a hostile and heartbreaking building, against a Canucks team with a level of self -supernatural evaluation. belief.

And now, after proving that no moment is too big for them thus far, the Edmonton Oilers have yet another moment:

Sixty minutes of hockey between them and a place in the Stanley Cup final.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” Zach Hyman said Saturday. “We prepared well to win this series at home.”

If no moment has been too big for these Oilers, then why should this one be any different?

Why can’t a team whose play has built each series – which used the patience learned from the Kings against Vancouver and now uses the resolve strengthened by Vancouver against Dallas – rise to this next sequential moment?

It says here that they are ready. Why would you assume anything else?

“The trust we have in each other,” Leon Draisaitl began, his face bearing the new battle marks of a dominant Game 5 win. “Once we get to our game – and the more we get to it – it’s really dangerous. And it’s really very good.

“A lot of teams have that game, (but) I just think the trust and confidence in each other is really, really high.”

A full house at home. A series that will rock you.

This extraordinary crossroads within a hockey season where all the elements – the goaltending, the shots on goal, the depth forward, the defensive posture, the killer instinct, the decisions of the coach – all arrived at the same peak at the same time.

“We’re a confident group,” Hyman promised. “Even when we started the season badly, we still believed in our group, believed in our goal. There’s nothing to get excited about at the moment, we still have work to do. But that’s the mentality at the start of the year, that’s the mentality of the moment. Nothing has changed.”

You could say the Oilers are ready for this moment because of, as Draisaitl said Saturday, “the lessons you learn along the way.” All the little details of the playoffs. That’s now worth eight series, over the last three springs.

But maybe they have more than that, a higher level of determination has struck them from the start of the 2023-24 season that has brought them to a personal edge, long before the Dallas Stars even started to be tested.

“We started this season with extremely high expectations and then we hit rock bottom,” Hyman said. “I had a change of coach. I’ve experienced things that we wouldn’t have believed if you had told us at the beginning of the year.

Through that bit of luck/misfortune came the arrival of head coach Kris Knoblauch, whose measured touch settled a team that was a bit of a wild stallion. A team that needed the right jockey to give it the right course.

“I’ve often found that a team reflects the behavior of its coach, and Kris is always balanced,” Hyman said. “Whether we’re up or down in a game, up or down in a series, you know exactly how he reacts. This calming presence helped us at the start of the season, when the season was not going very well for us.

“He came in, provided a calming presence and helped the guys get their confidence back.”

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Now, after an 82-game season and most of three playoff rounds, the Oilers continue to build a higher game, likely controlling 95 of the final 120 minutes of this Western Conference final.

“(Game 5) was probably our most complete game of the year,” Draisaitl said. “Everyone plays a role, everyone does their job, everyone plays well. If we do that, we’ll be a tough team to beat.

Reinforced by their shaky start. Hardened by having to win games 6 and 7 against Vancouver. Galvanized by a Friday night in Dallas where no one came out of the building to ask who the best team of the night was.

Now, one more moment. Not the last one, but another one.

A Canadian city where it matters so deeply. A Sunday congregation of some 18,000 faithful. The cacophonous costume party turned playoff game in Edmonton.

“It’s tough to play in our building,” Hyman said. “As a fan, you can’t be more excited than having the chance to win at home and watching your team play. They’re going to go crazy.

“It’s exciting for us too.”

There was nervousness in those moments.

I think there are no more.