Edmonton Oilers And New York Rangers Encounter Early Difficulties After Deep Postseason Runs

Edmonton Oilers center Ryan McLeod (71), left wing Warren Foegele (37) and left wing Dylan Holloway … [+] (55) celebrate after Holloway scored a goal and tied the score during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

If things went differently last spring it would be the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers would have meeting to decide Stanley Cup, a fitting series given that in the period between the 1990 and 1994, several former Oilers wound up on the 1994 team who snapped the 54-year championship drought for the Rangers.

Except things went differently with the Rangers losing the final four games to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Oilers allowing 22 goals in a four-game sweep to the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche AVAX .

Nearly six months later, the runner-up teams in their respective conferences met for the first time in a reminder of how hard it might be to follow up a deep playoff run with a strong start to the next regular season, especially when the offseason is slightly shorter than usual.

After an impressive comeback that netted them a 4-3 win Saturday afternoon, the Oilers are 11-10-0, putting them barely above .500 while the Rangers are 10-8-4 or the NBA equal of being 10-12, which is similar to the record of the Nets (9-11) and the Knicks (9-10). And making complicating matters for the Rangers is the unexpected rise of the New Jersey Devils, who ended Saturday with a sizable 12-point lead after winning for the 15th time in 16 games.

“You don’t get to pick how it’s scripted every game,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said in what sounded like a throwaway line after talking how his team seemed to control the action despite trailing by three goals into the third.

The Rangers and Oilers are finding out the hard part that sometimes taking the next step from conference finalist into dominating Cup contender often does not take root early on in the next regular season and sometimes not at all, though there are exceptions such as the Lightning, whose three straight Stanley Cup appearances may be the NHL equal to the Astros reaching the ALCS in six straight seasons.

The notable thing about the Lightning is the fact they reached the Stanley Cup finals in a span of about 21 months, winning the first title over Dallas in the Edmonton bubble on Sept. 28, 2020, the second title over Montreal on July 7, 2021 and losing the bid for a third straight title on June 26, a time when the draft usually gets held.

On Saturday, neither team looked like Cup contenders, though the way the final 15:20 unfolded Edmonton appeared to look like a dominant team, getting three of its four goals in a span of 5:42 before the stars took over on a late power play

The winning sequence almost seemed predictable and 24 seconds after Alexis Lafreniere took a roughing penalty in the left corner on Edmonton defenseman Tyson Barrie. The Oilers won a faceoff, moved the puck into the offensive zone.

Then Connor McDavid circled the net, saw Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the slot. Nugent-Hopkins saw Leon Draisaitl cut down the left side, but Igor Shesterkin did not see the same thing and when the left side of the net was left vacated a pass needed to be made and Draisaitl simply had to tap the puck in.

“Obviously a big character win, but we have to learn from our mistakes, and we have to learn quick, too,” Draisaitl said. “We can’t be going down 3-0 every single game. It’s exhausting on guys.

“But it’s a really big win for us and we have to build on that. It’s a step in the right direction but we have to follow it up. We can’t continue to win one, lose one, win one, lose one. 500 isn’t going to get you in the playoffs. We have to start winning some games consistently and do it the right way. I thought that third period was a great step.”

New York Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider (4), defenseman Libor Hajek (25), right wing Julien … [+] Gauthier (12), center Ryan Carpenter (22) and left wing Sammy Blais (91) celebrate after Gauthier scored a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in New York . (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

And when he did, the Oilers went from a second straight three-goal loss to an impressive comeback while the Rangers were back to talking about not playing a complete game, something they often speak about through the first 22 games.

I thought we played a great two periods,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Then we came out in the third period and got careless,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “They get four goals in the third period for no reason other than us giving them opportunities – and two dumb penalties. It’s a team collapse. That can’t happen.”

It is certainly possible things can change by the time the postseason rolls around in five-plus months but the early returns on the two losing teams from last spring’s conference final may indicate a lengthy struggle back to their lofty status.

“We couldn’t stop that,” Mika Zibanejad “We couldn’t stop the momentum and try to get the momentum to go the other way. That’s obviously a tough, tough way to lose.”

And a tough way to play when trying to duplicate the traits from last season when the Rangers staged 27 comeback wins with 23 of those being one-goal contests.

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