Avalanche sweep Oilers with chaotic overtime win in Game 4

The Colorado Avalanche are off to the Stanley Cup Final after closing out the Oilers in Game 4 on Monday night in Edmonton. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
The Colorado Avalanche are off to the Stanley Cup Final after closing out the Oilers in Game 4 on Monday night in Edmonton. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Artturi Lehkonen scored the series-clinching goal in overtime as the Colorado Avalanche swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final with a 6-5 victory on Monday night.

Lehkonen added two assists, Cale Makar dominated with a goal and four assists and Gabriel Landeskog scored a goal and added two helpers as Colorado and Edmonton played arguably the best game of the series in Game 4.

It was a bittersweet ending for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the latter of whom provided four primary assists in Game 4 despite battling through a brutal lower-body injury.

Colorado will advance to the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001.

Here are three takeaways from Game 4 of the Western Conference final:

Avalanche withstood the Oilers’ best shot, and there’s no answer for Cale Makar

You cannot fault the Oilers for a lack of urgency, or pin this loss on their two superstars. Edmonton threw everything it had at Colorado and still came away on the bitter end of one of the best games of the playoffs. McDavid is the best player alive, Draisaitl is probably somewhere in the top six or seven (more on the star duo below) but Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Devon Toews and Mikko Rantanen (who had a goal in every game this series) were too much to handle. Colorado’s bottom-six also outplayed Edmonton’s bottom-six and it’s only fitting they’re off to the Cup final. For the better part of three years, the Avalanche have unanimously been the most fun team in the league to watch, and now they’ve finally earned their ticket to the biggest stage of all.

There’s also no answer for Cale Makar. Makar drew repeated comparisons to Bobby Orr on Sportsnet’s broadcast after authoring a five-point performance, which included the game’s opening goal. Makar, with New York’s Adam Fox in a close second, is the best player in the league at navigating the blue line in the offensive end, his puck skills are unmatched for a defenseman, and he can score with the league’s very elite forwards this postseason, while sacrificing nothing defensively.

Makar’s seeing-eye shot got the Avalanche on the board, and though the Oilers threatened throughout the contest, you could argue it set the tone for the game. And when the game reached fever pitch during the third period and overtime, Makar elevated his play, setting up Mikko Rantanen for the go-ahead goal and providing the Avalanche with a 5-4 lead.

Zack Kassian scored with just under four minutes remaining to force the contest into the extra frame, but once again, Makar’s imprint was all over the game’s defining play. Just one minute into the overtime period, Makar got another shot through traffic, Mike Smith flubbed it after it was redirected, and Lehkonen calmly tucked away his own rebound for the series-winner, as the Avalanche withstood the Oilers’ best shot.

Any metric, along with the eye test, would confirm that Game 4 was as evenly contested as one could want, the expected goals in all situations went to the Oilers by the slightest of edges, while Zach Hyman authored one of his best games of the postseason. Any time McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman were on the ice, the Oilers appeared poised to score. Individual talents in hockey can only bring their team so far, and it’s only fitting that Lehkonen, a solid but unheralded trade deadline acquisition, punched his team’s card to the final.

Draisaitl battles through gruesome injury in valiant attempt to keep Oilers alive

You need your best players to be your best players in an elimination game and Leon Draisaitl rose to the occasion in Game 4. He was the best player on the ice for the Oilers with four primary assists, despite labouring through an ankle injury and there were many shifts that were uncomfortable to watch.

We’ll address the obvious concern here: we’re not trying to glorify the idea of playing through pain, or some idea of masculinity tied to pain suppression, but the fact of the matter is that on a team that is as top-heavy as the Oilers are, Draisaitl will take every shift he’s offered. The onus lies on the Oilers’ medical team to rule him out, not the player itself. And we can’t analyze this game without addressing Edmonton’s most impactful player, which was Draisaitl.

Draisaitl isn’t overly reliant on his skating to generate offense, and he picked apart the Avalanche defense with aplomb throughout the contest and Hyman was the greatest beneficiary of this display, walking in virtually unimpeded on both of his goals against Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz. And despite the fact that he often limped off to the bench, Draisaitl was a menace on the rush, as he sent two picture-perfect passes to McDavid and Zack Kassian, respectively, for Edmonton’s third and fifth goals of the contest. McDavid could probably score from anywhere, but Kassian isn’t known for his scoring touch, and the cross-ice zips were a thing of beauty.

Logging 7:25 at 5-on-5, the McDavid-Draisaitl-Hyman line outshot their opponents 6-4, with a 64.4 percent share of the expected goals via Natural Stat Trick. And though many have tried to make the argument that the Oilers are more than a two-man team, it badly needed more scoring touch outside of their star-studded first line.

There is no easy historical precedent for McDavid and Draisaitl’s 2022 run

During the inevitable post-mortem of the Oilers season, there will be a broader analysis of the entire team and its failings, but you can’t help but gravitate towards McDavid and Draisaitl after the stunning individual performances they submitted. How do you contextualize their greatness in the confines of a team sport? Some argued that McDavid has a Steph Curry-esque gravity-like effect on the ice, and perhaps that is true to a degree on certain possessions, but not over the course of a full series. The sweep proved definitely that even if you have two of the game’s truly elite talents operating at the height of their powers, you can be beat by a team that is better suited for the stage, with better depth across the board.

There was also an argument that McDavid is playing at the highest level anyone’s ever performed at, accounting for the tremendous depth and caliber of optimally-trained athletes in the modern NHL. Plaudits as such invite lofty historical comparisons and there’s no easy precedent to account for McDavid and Draisaitl’s run. If you use the 1980s Oilers as a stand-in for what this team aspires to be, the closest precedent would be the 1981 Oilers getting upset by the Los Angeles Kings in one of hockey’s most dramatic best-of-five series. Perhaps if the Oilers had advanced to the Cup and lost, you could say it was their 1983 moment, where Gretzky and Co. got schooled by Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders, only to avenge their loss the following year.

At the risk of getting ejected from the take factory, this sweep will invite comparisons to McDavid’s face-of-the-league peers at the same age. Sidney Crosby won his first Cup at 22, Gretzky got over the hump at 23 and Mario Lemieux was 25, the same age that McDavid is now. There’s probably something to be said about "rings culture" producing toxic analysis, but it’s not unreasonable to expect the face of the league, who has been a household name in Canada for almost a decade, to eventually lift the Cup.

These expectations, perhaps unfair at times, have been applied to the greatest stars in men’s North American sports, whether it’s LeBron James or Peyton Manning or now, in this case, McDavid. McDavid’s aforementioned peer-prodigies from other sports eventually got the ring to justify their cases to be considered among the all-time greats.

McDavid would glide into the Hall of Fame if he were to retire tomorrow, Draisaitl is on a similar yet slightly different trajectory.

Fighting for a spot on hockey’s Mount Rushmore is a more fickle game, however, and that clock is ticking.

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