Oilers rally around teammate Kris Russell, victim of costly last-minute mistake
'He’s the guy you would go to war for, he does everything for us,' Oilers captain Connor McDavid says
Kris Russell proves his courage every game, by throwing himself in front of frozen pucks fired by the hardest shooters in the NHL.
On Thursday, moments after he accidentally shot one of those pucks into his own net, the Oilers defenceman, still dripping with sweat, had the guts to stand in the team's locker room and face the inevitable questions about what will likely be one of the darkest moments in his career.
He could just as easily have slipped off into the shower room, and waited out the cameras and the microphones.
At five-foot-10, Russell is the smallest defender on the Oilers roster.
But there was nothing small about him on this night.
"It was a bounce," he told the assembled media mass, likely still a little shell-shocked. "I tried to battle [the puck] out. You guys know what happened."
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Russell's mistake cost his team the game. There is no way around that.
With one minute and six seconds left in the third period, the Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs were tied 4-4. One second later, during a scramble in the defensive zone, the puck slipped off Russell's stick and found its way through the pads of goaltender Laurent Brossoit. Leafs 5, Oilers 4.
Years from now, long after he has retired, Russell can likely expect to be asked about his mistake.
Those people in the future are less likely to remember the goal he scored earlier in the period, at the other end of the ice, the one that tied the score and gave his team a chance to win.
In the locker room, after it was over, Russell and Brossoit, metaphorically at least, switched places for a moment, as the goalie dove to try to save his teammate and assume some of the blame.
"We all make mistakes throughout the game," said Brossoit, who gave up two goals early in the first period then played very well the rest of the night to earn his team a chance for a better outcome.
Asked about the accidental goal, Brossoit said it took him by surprise.
"I didn't see it on a Toronto stick," he said. "But at the same time, I could have been a little sharper, I could have been a bit more ready. Especially with a minute left."
When his turn came, Oilers captain Connor McDavid couldn't say enough positive things about his stricken teammate.
"He's the guy you would go to war for," McDavid said of Russell. "He does everything for us. He throws himself in some shooting lanes that most people would be diving to get out of the way."
Oilers team shows ton of character
If it's possible to build momentum from a loss, Thursday's game would a perfect place for the Oilers to start.
Collectively, the team showed a ton of character in the final two periods.
Down a goal after the first shot and trailing 2-0 less than six minutes into the game, the Oilers did not fold. Instead, they pulled themselves together and began the hard slogging work of building a comeback.
In the biblical book of Matthew, there is a verse that says, roughly, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."
On this night, the second part proved to be true, as the Oilers fourth line led the way. Mark Letestu had a goal and two assists. Jujhar Khaira, recently playing the best hockey of his young career, had two assists. And line mate Zack Kassian had a goal, an assist, and a fight.
Throughout much of the game, patrons in Rogers Place engaged in their own contest to see who could yell the loudest. Every time home-team fans started the "Let's Go, Oilers" cheer, a few thousand Toronto fans tried to drown them out with "Go, Leafs, Go!"
All in all, a great hockey game
It made for an exciting night, on the ice and in the stands. All in all, it was a heck of a hockey game.
Late in the second period, with the Leafs up 3-2, Russell and McDavid teamed up for the tying goal, which seemed to stun Leafs fans into temporary silence. Russell took the puck at the point, saw McDavid parked in the perfect spot, and fed him a perfect shot-pass the Oilers captain tipped home.
Less than a minute later, the Leafs regained the lead and gave the home team another chance to call it a night.
Instead, the Oilers kept pressing, and were rewarded when Russell fired home his second goal of the year on the snapshot from the point.
From that point on, it seemed like a next-goal-wins kind of game.
Brossoit made several key saves to keep his team's chances alive. Both he and his team deserved a better ending.
With Thursday's loss, the Oilers closed out the month of November with a record of 10-14-2.
Though the team showed resilience, some problems that have plagued the Oilers all year remain to be solved.
Glaringly, the Leafs were two for two on the power play Thursday. The Oilers failed to score on either of their man advantages.
The Oilers head to Calgary to face the Flames on Saturday.
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