The old saying is that time flies. That seems especially true as today marks the 30th anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers’ fifth, and unlikeliest, Stanley Cup on this sunny Sunday – the first and only sip from the silverware of the post-Wayne Gretzky era.
A 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Beantown had the Oilers hoisting the Cup after five games on May 24, 1990, and it was very different in every way from the four previous Cup parades on Jasper Avenue. Gretzky was gone, sold by Peter Pocklington to the Los Angeles Kings. Paul Coffey was gone, and Andy Moog too.
Captained by Mark Messier, these weren’t the swaggering, cocky Oilers who ended one dynasty – that of the New York Islanders – and started another with the first four Cups they won, but Messier and Craig Simpson and eventual Conn Smyth Trophy winner Bill Ranford made this edition of the Oilers as resilient as any team we’d seen here.
Off to a 6-9-5 start under coach John Muckler with Glen Sather concentrating on GM’s duties, the Oilers spent the next 60 games scrambling. They’d finish with 38 wins and 90 points — the fewest of any Oiler team to win a Cup. In the first round of the playoffs, with Grant Fuhr out with a bad shoulder and Ranford taking the crease, the Oilers fell behind the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 in the series. No Gretzky, no chance. Right? Well, no.
A NEW WAY
Down 3-1 in Game 5, Ranford shut the door and the Oilers scored three straight goals, including the winner by Messier, to win 4-3. They evened the series with another 4-3 win and then dispatched the Jets 4-1 to win in seven. Next up, the Oilers swept Gretzky and the Kings – if that wasn’t a statement series, I don’t know what is.
In the third round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers fell behind 2-1 through three games before Messier went to work in Game 4 at Chicago Stadium, kicking ass and scoring twice on the way to a 4-2 win. The Oilers closed out the Blackhawks with 4-3 and 8-4 wins to keep a date with the Bruins in a rematch of the 1988 Stanley Cup final.
The rest we know. Ranford made 50 saves and Petr Klima unstapled his ass from the bench to score in triple-overtime to give the Oilers a 3-2 win in Game 1. They pumped the Bruins 7-2 in the second game. Boston’s only sniff came in Game 3 by way of a 2-1 win before the Oilers closed it out 5-1 and 4-1, igniting a boozy flight home and a party nobody expected when the season began.
When it was said and done, Ranford had all 16 post-season wins for the Oilers with Moog gone and Fuhr out. Messier and Simpson each had 31 points. Gretzky’s old wingman, Jari Kurri, tallied 25 points and Esa Tikkanen, who had hounded the Great One in the second round, had 24 points.
WHAT THEY SAID
“This is sweet, very, very sweet,” Messier said. “This is the start of a new era and a new decade. Nobody expected us to be back this soon. Added Simpson: “I don’t think anybody expected us to be sitting where we are today.” Simpson had that right.
“Kevin (Lowe) and I talked about the game this afternoon,” said Messier. “And I said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘I think we should go out and win it for Gretz. It’s the perfect way to show how big a part of this team he’s been, and how he’s still with us, really.’
“First and foremost, we wanted to win it for the guys in this room, the young guys who’ve never won, and the guys who’ve been around all along.”
So, here we are exactly 30 years later, waiting for the NHL to figure out how to get the season and playoffs in the books and the next chapter written during this COVID-19 pandemic. Happy anniversary.