0-3-0. That was Edmonton’s record at the end of February and into the start of March when they last saw the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The Maple Leafs completely dismantled and embarrassed the Oilers, outscoring them 13-1 in those three games. Tonight, after a 7-2-0 stretch for the Oilers, the sides meet again.
This time, they’ll do battle in Toronto in the final two meetings of the season. It’s a chance for the Oilers to send a strong message to the rest of the North Division and, by extension, the rest of the NHL.
“During the season, there are some ups and downs,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said Friday when asked to reflect on the last battle with Toronto. “We didn’t play very well the last three games against them. We gave up early goals against them. The other games were really tight games. We just have to get back to playing the way we can. We got to monitor and see how we come out of this break. We’ve been sitting on the road for a week, so we got to make sure we got our competitive juices coming back and get engaged in the game right away.”
Leon Draisaitl hasn’t forgotten about the debacle roughly one month ago. He and the Oilers knew going into that series how important it was. They felt the sting of the sweep before picking themselves up off the mat and rattling off seven victories in nine tries.
“We knew the importance of it,” Draisaitl said of that three-game miniseries. “It was a critical stretch of the season where we obviously didn’t play the way we wanted to in those three games against Toronto. That was a big step in the right direction to come back and win the next three. That was big for our team, a big help for the standings. We’re looking to continue that.”
So, how important is revenge? How important is it for the Oilers to go into Toronto tonight and send a message with a big victory? According to veteran defenseman Kris Russell, it’s secondary. The Oilers are focused on one thing and one thing only; their game.
“I think it’s more about the type of game we bring into the next two here,” Russell said when asked about how important it is to beat Toronto. “It’s the way they out-competed us and out-played us that was disappointing for our group. We got a big chance here. We got a chance to right that wrong kind of. They had a big win (Thursday) night, so they’re feeling pretty good and it should be a good test. We got some fresh legs. It’s definitely a game we’ve been looking forward to.”
Even though Edmonton was sunk in that last three-game series, the Oilers know they can beat the Maple Leafs. After all, the sides had split the first four meetings with a pair of wins each prior to the sweep.
“We’ve played and beat this team before,” Russell added. “The way those three games went last time, it’s not something that sits well with us. At the same time, we’re a confident group in the way our team plays and when we play the right way, we feel like we can beat anyone.”
Draisaitl echoed the fact that things don’t sit well with this group when it comes to the Maple Leafs. In fact, the reigning MVP wants to send a message over the next three nights.
“You never know what’s going to happen at the end. You want to send a message,” Draisaitl admitted. “We want to beat them and show them that we’re a good team, too. Those next two games are going to be fun and they’re going to be exciting. I think fans will love it.”