Edmonton Oilers looking to outlast inevitable lulls against Stars

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There are certainly easier responsibilities in the wide world of sports than being an Edmonton Oilers fan.

Talk about setting the bar high early on.

This city didn’t have to wait long after joining the NHL for a Stanley Cup championship. And then for that championship to turn into an absolute dynasty the likes of which could stand up in its prime to any other of all time.

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It was led by the greatest player there ever was, who, if that wasn’t enough, was surrounded by a cast of future Hall-of-Famers who would grow into legends of the game.

Five Stanley Cups in seven years.

And then, just like that, it was over.

Playoffs were no longer a guarantee, let alone Stanley Cups.

Oh, sure. There was one time they went, quite unexpectedly, for an extended run that ended up lasting painfully long, given how it ended. A loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final only served to remind everyone around here how good it used to be, and how much had changed.

Even that was less painful than what was to come.

It turned out that Stanley Cup push was a make-or-break turning point in the organization, which immediately followed up with a Decade of Darkness, without a single playoff appearance.

But as that ended, new life was being breathed into the leftover carcass that brought back hope. Through the luck of the draw, Edmonton fans were gifted once again with the best player there is.

And all of a sudden, the Oilers were a team to be reckoned with, going from a free space on the Bingo card to an opponent that could win on any given night.

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Then, somewhere along the way, expectations shifted and they became a team that could lose on any given night. Play their best, and no one can stop them.

Making the playoffs was no longer an achievement in itself, and anything less than a return to the Stanley Cup Final is seen as falling short.

“I truly believe our best beats anyone’s best,” Leon Draisaitl told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector following Friday’s morning skate at American Airlines Center. “It’s just a matter of consistently playing that way.

“And that’s taxing, and that’s a hard thing to do.”

Hard? Try being an Oilers fan in the stands or watching on TV when the team with the best player in the world is inexplicably underperforming. Especially with all the evidence scattered throughout the post-season of just how good they can be. Just how dominant and all-out will-imposing when they seemingly want to be.

Which, as it turns out, is not nearly as often as when their fans want them to be.

“To play at your best every single night, every single shift, that’s really hard to do,” said Draisaitl, one of three Oilers occupying the top three spots on the NHL playoffs points leaderboard.

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Makes sense. To put it in terms of a high-performance race car, there is only so much push-to-pass to go around, after all.

But that still doesn’t explain the other times.

Just like the term ‘race car,’ which spells the same thing forward as it does backward, the Oilers have shown a tremendous ability to play up to their peak one minute, before turning a complete 180 and making an opponent look way better than they have any business looking.

And that’s just in the regular season, never mind here in the playoffs, where the level of competition is always par, and only grows the deeper you go.

The problem with this Oilers squad is there seems to be no happy medium, and from game to game you don’t know which version you’re going to see. The one that scored five unanswered goals to win 5-2 in Game 4 and even up the Western Conference final heading into Friday’s Game 5?

Or the one that found itself behind 2-0 not five-and-a-half minutes into that same game, while not yet even having registered a shot on goal in response.

The only questions left in these playoffs seem to be, how long are the inevitable lulls going to last? And will the Oilers end up being able to outlast themselves through it all?

“I think we’re finding our way a little bit,” Draisaitl said. “And just looking to continue that.”

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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