On Sunday, April 27, 1975, a strange thing happened. The Buffalo Sabres, who had been to one playoff series (they lost) in previous seasons, opened up their semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens at home. You don’t know this (unless you’re older), but the 1975 NHL had four or five strong teams (basically three of the original six and the Philadelphia Flyers) and everyone else. Buffalo was not in that inner circle of possible Cup winners, even though they ripped through the NHL for 113 points that year.
On that Sunday in Buffalo, the Sabres scored early and often. It was 3-1 until Guy Lafleur scored late in the first period to make things interesting. These Habs, the 1975 club, were frequent Stanley winners and a year away from another Golden Era (four in a row). On Sunday, April 27, they were bested by an expansion club, the Buffalo Sabres, who had come into existence earlier in the decade. It took Buffalo until 4:42 of overtime before Danny Gare sealed the deal in Game 1 and gave all hockey fans an indication that a second expansion team may have escaped the lower tier. Buffalo won again on the Tuesday at home, this time 4-2 and in regulation.
And then the Habs hammered the Sabres back in Montreal. The score on Thursday was 7-0 and on Saturday it was 8-2. The series was tied, but it was over. We all knew it, the way we knew it during past seasons when Minnesota or St. Louis would push deep into a series and we’d all get excited. The Buffalo Sabres, on the night of Saturday May 3, 1975, had been blown out 15-2 in the most recent two games and looked dead in the water.
Game 5 was back in Buffalo, and the Sabres got it to overtime—and they won! Rene Robert from Gilbert Perreault and it was a big damned story. However, Game 6 in Montreal would see that staggering Habs team playing desperate hockey. The refs would be calling the game we know to this day (veteran teams get the calls) and Buffalo would need to be perfect.
And they were. Craig Ramsay scored early, the Sabres were up 3-1 after one and 4-1 after two. The expected surge by Montreal did arrive, but goals by Guy Lafleur and Peter Mahovlich weren’t enough to win the day. Scoring summary is here.
What’s the lesson of this story? The Oilers could be coming back to lose 8-2 at Rogers Place, or the San Jose Sharks may have won their final game of the season. We don’t know how this series is going to turn out, we only know that history favors the Sharks—just as it did on May 3, 1975. This Oilers team has surprised me all season long, I’m looking forward to seeing how they play Thursday night. I haven’t checked the numbers, but iirc McLellan’s Oilers recover fairly well.
- Connor McDavid: “The series is still 2-2 & we’re still in a good spot. We got a split here & that’s what we came to do. You just scrap it. We were bad tonight, obviously. That’s not our team, not our game. It’s a one-off.”
Yes. It’s important for the Oilers to come out in Game 5 and establish their game, while also changing up a few things. For the life of me I don’t know why this team is having such trouble figuring out where the penalty line is drawn, but if they continue along this line they won’t have to worry about it past this weekend. They’ll be gone.
I also think coach Todd McLellan needs to have a good long look at his injured players, because these men are not getting things done. If Connor McDavid’s wingers are injured, get him two healthy linemates and let’s get this party started!
Finally, the club needs Cam Talbot to stop more shots. The first two goals were tipped, and the third goal was on the power play, but that’s the job. Edmonton can’t go down 3-0 on Thursday night.
JESSE PULJUJARVI: 18 AND IN THE AHL
During the past three AHL seasons, there have been six youngster (18) who have been regulars. Rantanen and Pastrnak were the class of the group as AHL players and Pastrnak has blossomed. Here, in the order of productivity, are each man’s NHL numbers:
- William Nylander 103gp, 28-46-74 .718
- David Pastrnak 172gp, 59-54-123 .715
- Mikko Rantanen 84gp, 20-19-39 .464
- Jesse Puljujarvi 28gp, 1-7-8 .286
- Kevin Fiala 60gp, 12-5-17 .283
- Alexander Nylander 4gp, 0-1-1 .250
I think JP is still telling us his story, but we have had two seasons now (draft year and draft+1) and we find him in the middle of the offensive pack most of the time. It’s a tell, and we wait for more information. I reached out to Jeff Veillette in regard to Nylander’s linemates during this period, and he gave me Ryan Rupert, Matt Frattin, Greg McKegg, Byron Froese, Connor Brown. I would rate all of these men as being solid to excellent AHL players, and superior to Puljujarvi’s group (Josh Currie, Jaedon Descheneau, Scott Allen) save for the quality time JP spent with Anton Lander. Is Puljujarvi closer to Toronto’s Nylander or Kevin Fialia? Don’t know.
ABOUT LAST NIGHT
I’m not going to drill down as usual, this was one ugly baby and there’s not much use writing 19 versions of “he has to be better.” I went into last night thinking one (or both) of two things had to break:
- Either Edmonton was going to stop taking penalties or San Jose would score some power-play goals.
- Connor McDavid was going to break out on the 5×5.
One of those things broke loose last night, the other did not. History tells us these things regress to the meat, but if the meat doesn’t show up this week, the Oilers may be pooched. That’s going to be the storyline for the rest of the week, along with some madcap coverage by Edmonton’s defense that needs to be ironed away. Interesting stat from last night: Oilers had three takeaways, and 17 giveaways.
A lot has been made about McDavid versus the Vlasic pairing, and the time may have come for Todd McLellan to change the matchup. During the regular year, McDavid had a 51.11 Corsi for 5×5 percentage (in one hour at 5×5) against Vlasic, 28-35 in scoring chances for/against. In the playoffs, in 40 minutes, McDavid is 45.24 Corsi for 5×5 and has a 22-21 scoring chance ratio. If the Oilers are going to win, they need 97 roaring with clean air, and seeing McDavid cross checking Sharks and taking useless back-checking penalties on the PK tell me he’s frustrated enough to need a change. No sin in it, and if he gets rolling, McDavid can grab this series by the throat.
NHL Player Safety’s roulette wheel could land on ’tilt’ or ‘mutton’ for all I know, but it seems unlikely Leon Draisaitl will get any further punishment for his lack of discipline.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
Today on the show, beginning at 10 TSN1260:
- Darcy McLeod, Because Oilers. What happened? Can they get it back? Matchups!
- Jake Sundstrom, Fear the Fin. We’ve reached a point where this series is going to write its final chapters. Are the Sharks back?
- Jeff Veillette, Leafs Nation. Can the Leafs do this thing?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!