The going story out there has been that the NBA Playoffs have been kinda trash. It’s easy to see why people think that, because there’s been a ton of blowouts, and neither of the conference finals has produced a close game in eight tries. What we want out of the playoffs are moments and performances we can recall from now on, and it’s hard to get that when games are decided in the 2nd or 3rd quarters.
That, of course, has brought the #PleaseLikeMySport hockey brigade out to once again scream about how much better the NHL playoffs are, as is their way every spring. Which isn’t really true either. Just a smattering of OT games, and not that many more close encounters that weren’t boring as shit either. Both postseasons have just been kind of gray.
We almost had a signature moment that would live forever last night, but like everything else now we can’t have anything to hang onto. The Battle of Alberta looked to be spiraling out of competitiveness as the Oilers took a 3-0 lead in Game 4, already leading the series 2-1. A 3-1 Yet an Oilers lead wouldn’t be a death knell for the Flames, this is the Oilers after all, and they’re capable of anything on both sides of the scale and can faceplant at any moment hard enough to push their nose through their brain. But still, you’d prefer to be guaranteed six games.
Then the Flames scored two goals in two minutes in the 2nd period, and we had a third period worth watching set up. There were about two whistles for the first 15 minutes, but not a whole lot of action, just a bunch of aimless skating back and forth, the rare shot, one penalty call. It was all a morass, formless.
But out of ether is where the most beautiful art can spring, when you’re least expecting it, because when it hits you it can’t be ignored:
As I’m wont to do, I would love to blame the Oilers’ terrible third jerseys and all the fans wearing them in the stands for Oilers goalie Mike Smith losing sight of the puck and letting in a shot from Mahomes range. And I’m going to. Now this was truly a #HereComeTheOilers moment, in fact, it should have been THE #HereComeTheOilers moment. Nothing would have defined this era of Edmonton hockey than watching a series-turning goal dive bomb into the net from 400 feet away. Smith immediately bouncing up looking for someone to blame after he whiffed on a puck that he had a full two seconds to find would have been the iconic image that fans would use to tell their children about what the Oilers were like these days. Rarely do you get a decade distilled down to one image so clearly and powerfully. Game tied at 3, Flames with the momentum. Had they tied the series at 2, as the gods were clearly ordaining, there may not have been a bigger pivot point in a playoff series in hockey history since…well, Steve Smith fired one into his own net in another series between these two teams.
And then a couple minutes later the Flames couldn’t clear a dump-in, Oliver Kylington lost position on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a rebound, and a moment we could have built something truly meaningful on was lost to the label of a mere blooper.
Game 4 was something of a study in the entire life-cycle of an NHL goalie. Jakob Markstrom has been terrible for Calgary all series, and this one got off to the worst possible start. Hockey doesn’t have a #TOOTBLAN phenomena hashtag, but it probably should after this:
Markstrom would be beaten twice more in the first, and it surely looked like he’d completely folded in on himself. But Markstrom was able to pick up the pieces, the Flames got back into it, and made this save a couple minutes before Mike Smith went blind for a few seconds:
On the opposite side, Smith has been stellar for the Oilers since getting yanked in Game 1, which is a sentence that causes my eye to twitch and my jaw to lock shut. But this is still Mike Smith, and calamity and hilarity are always bubbling right beneath the surface. It truly would have been life-affirming if Markstrom had found his footing right as Smith was attacked by bees only he could see.
But no. The Oilers got the winner. None of that matters any more. We had something momentous and foundational, but watched it turn to sand and slip through our fingers. It can all be so fragile.