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Despite disappointing exit, Oilers learn valuable lessons from Avalanche

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EDMONTON — After a dazzling spring full of lead changes, 15-goal nights, and an offensive display that took us back nearly 40 years to Wayne Gretzky and the boys, the 2022 Edmonton Oilers fell off the fire wagon Monday, fittingly in a thrilling 6-5 overtime loss to Colorado.

Of course, it was.

If this is what’s coming — if this is the kind of high-wire hockey that lies ahead for an Oilers team that looks like it has found a foothold — then sign us up from coast to coast.

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In a sport that leaned towards tight, defensive hockey when the chips were down in May and June, Edmonton gave Canadians a steady diet of 5-4 hockey, with Connor McDavid (33 points) and Leon Draisaitl (32) averaging two points per game through their 16-game run.

“It feels like it’s steps, right?” said a disappointed McDavid, moments after a handshake line with the clearly superior Avalanche. “Every team kind of goes through it: They become a playoff team, then they get there most years, they go on a little bit of a run and they learn that lesson. Then it becomes their time to win.”

In their fourth consecutive season of winning at least one playoff round, that much is clear: It is Colorado’s time now.

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“You look at a Colorado team that’s been in that situation many, many times,” nodded McDavid. “They’re knocking on the door right now. It’s a step in the right direction (for Edmonton), but that’s all it is.”

Look, there isn’t a person in Oil Country who would tell you that Edmonton would win this series against Colorado if they dropped a puck for Game 1 again tomorrow night. Colorado is better — full stop — a team that shares the electric style of game that Edmonton plays, but is deeper, with more talent at more positions.

But this wasn’t eight wasted days, as Darryl Sutter once said.

Big picture, this was a look into the future against Colorado, after two series wins that took a franchise from frustration to foundation. They know now that they can win, but more importantly, this spring was a lesson on what it takes to really win.

“There’s no participation medal,” said goalie Mike Smith. “It’s very disappointing.”

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“We’re hungry. We’re a hungry group,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “You get to the conference finals, and there’s a long, long road to get back even into the playoffs next year. Then the grind begins.”

Edmonton stumbled through Round 1, only to answer the bell with a Game 6 must-win in Los Angeles, a game that may stand as the finest 60-minute performance in the seven-year career of the game’s best player, McDavid. Then they came home and locked down a 2-0 win in Game 7 to set up the first Battle of Alberta in 31 years.

The Flames and Oilers opened that series with a 9-6 circus of a hockey game, followed by four straight Oilers wins, a 132-foot goal, controversial reviews, and a five-game walk over a Flames team that nobody thought would lose to the loose, defensively challenged Oilers.

The series ended, of course, with a McDavid moment, an overtime wrister off the post and in, and a cruise down main street on Saddledome ice, fist-pumping his way from Cowtown to Colorado. There, a McSeries between him and Nathan MacKinnon would only have been better had it lasted a couple of games longer.

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Draisaitl marched through these playoffs like a peg-legged ship captain, refusing to let an ankle injury stop him from entering the NHL record book with his incredible string of three- or four-point games in all five games of that Calgary series. He closed the book with four primary assists Monday, a display of pain management that recalls the great Oiler Lee Fogolin, who set the standard for pain threshold when he removed his own filling with a curtain hook one game day in Hartford.

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Meanwhile, Nurse tore a hip flexor in the last week of the regular season, and missed only one playoff game due to a suspension. He’s played better to be sure, but in this sport what Nurse did is what leaders do.

He could skate, so he could play. For better or worse.

“Our medical staff… taped it up, gave me some anti-inflamm’s and away you go,” Nurse said. “There’s no excuse when you get to this point in the season. You want to be on your game and play at a certain level. There’s no excuse. Everyone’s banged up this time of year. And myself personally, I wanted to be better in this series. It’s just added motivation for summer to come back and be a difference-maker next year.”

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“Warriors, warriors,” said Smith, shaking his head. “But those are your leaders. Those are guys other guys look up to and when you’re seeing your top players battle through injuries and throw it all out on the ice and give it everything they have then you want to do the same.”

Smith ran out of gas in these playoffs, unable to give his team the saves it required to get this series back to Denver for Game 5. The Oilers led 3-1 and 4-2 in the third period, but allowed four goals.

They needed a late goal to force overtime, and of course, delivered. When it came to the kind of edge-of-your-seat hockey that kept an Easterner up past bedtime every second night for six weeks, this Oilers team delivered more magical moments than Houdini.

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Seriously, who plays this mush 5-4 hockey in a 3-2 league?

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These Oilers did, again, for better or worse.

“The way the playoffs worked were the way the playoffs worked,” shrugged head coach Jay Woodcroft, who drove this F1 car with one hand on the wheel, at times. “We lost three one-goal hockey games in this series (with two empty-netters). That’s a function of the way the game was being played.

“Can we do better defensively? We can. We scored five goals tonight. Should be enough to win a game.”

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That’s how we will remember this Oilers run, that on a lot of nights, five goals weren’t enough. You needed more.

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We all wanted more of this kind of hockey, and with Colorado blazing into the Stanley Cup Final, we’ll get more of it.

The game we love up here in Northern Alberta, it’s back.

Hang on to yer hats, folks.

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Tommy Pham hits walk-off single to give Red Sox a 3-2 victory over Yankees

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Tommy Pham ripped a walk-off single to give the Boston Red Sox a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees in ten innings.



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Fernando Tatis Jr. suspension: An optimistic look at the Padres’ season without their star shortstop

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The Padres have lost shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. for the rest of the season and into May of next year. He’s been suspended 80 games for a violation of the league’s joint drug agreement

Of course, the Padres haven’t had Tatis all season, so did they actually lose him? 

If it sounds like I’m about to go on a path of optimism in looking at the prospects for the Padres moving forward during Tatis’ suspension, that’s because it’s exactly what I’m going to do. Look, I grew up a Cubs fan. I’ve had to be an eternal optimist for the entirety of my sports fandom in order to maintain sanity. It comes in handy at times like these, so I’ll channel that energy here for the sake of Padres fans — really, for any baseball fans who wanted to see new blood late in the playoffs in the form of these Padres. 

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But mostly those Padres fans who are reeling right now. Let’s get to it. 

Padres haven’t had Tatis anyway

As noted, the Padres have gotten zero games from Tatis this season, so it’s not like they lost a lineup fixture who has been doing heavy lifting for the team all season. That’s what Manny Machado has been doing, and he’s fully capable of continuing to have a huge season. He’s a 29-year-old seasoned veteran. He won’t run out of gas. 

The Padres as a whole have been in playoff position basically all season. They started 14-7 and have been under .500 just one day this season — when they started 0-1. 

A big part of the Padres’ success this season has been the rotation. It’s been one of the better rotations in baseball this season, and with Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea, it figures to remain strong into the playoffs. The Tatis injury doesn’t affect that. 

What needed a boost was the offense. 

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Trade deadline additions

Let’s just take Tatis out of the equation entirely for 2022. Let’s say he was out for the season from the get-go and we never even thought about his return. We’d be talking about a team that was 60-46 through Aug. 2. The starting pitching was in great shape. The bullpen was good as well and added elite potential in Josh Hader in front of the deadline. 

The offense needed a boost. Machado is the star while Jake Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar were having quality offensive seasons, but they needed more. 

Josh Bell was hitting .301/.384/.493 (152 OPS+) with 24 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, 57 RBI and 52 runs in 103 games, and the Padres added him. Brandon Drury was hitting .274/.335/.520 (126 OPS+) with 22 doubles, two triples, 22 homers, 59 RBI and 62 runs in 92 games, and the Padres also added him. 

And, of course, they added one of the best and most polished hitters in baseball: Juan Soto

So, we’re talking about a team that was 14 games over .500 adding a top-shelf closer, two very good offensive players and a generational talent. 

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It sure seems like there’s a chance they’ll be OK, right? 

Division title was unattainable

One area they won’t be OK is in the race for the NL West. That’s over. After being swept by the Dodgers this past weekend, the Padres were facing a 16-game deficit in the division heading into Friday. They were never, ever going to make that many games up in this short period of time. Even if Tatis came back 100 percent healthy and played exponentially better than he ever has, they’d still fall short in the division. 

Follow the Braves’ path? 

In terms of sheer talent level, age and potential moving forward, Ronald Acuña, Jr. is a fair comparison for Tatis. He finished second in MVP voting at age 21 while Tatis finished third at age 22. Acuña might have been en route to an MVP last season, too, but he tore his ACL on July 10. 

The Braves were able to rally without him for a World Series championship. This was a team that only won 88 regular-season games, making them the playoff team with the worst record. They beat a 95-win Brewers team in the NLDS, a 106-win Dodgers team in the NLCS and then a 95-win Astros team in the World Series. 

No two teams ever have the same circumstances. We all know this. The 2021 Braves doesn’t mean the 2022 Padres are going to win the World Series. No one truly believes that. It doesn’t hurt for the team to look at a situation and believe they can pull off something similar, though. Plus, as we established here at the top, the Padres didn’t technically lose Tatis this season, as he never played a game. They also had a better record through July than those Braves did. The Braves didn’t add a player the caliber of Soto at the trade deadline. 

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Hell, if anything, these Padres are better suited for a deep run than those Braves were. 

This has been your optimistic spin on the Padres’ current situation, vis a vis the Tatis suspension. 

Did it work, San Diego? 



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Kyle Tucker crushes go-ahead grand slam to give Astros the lead

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Kyle Trucker crushed a go-ahead grand slam to give the Houston Astros the lead over the Oakland Athletics.



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