In the 10-year stretch between 1996-2006, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. They made the playoffs in seven out of nine seasons (2004-05 was the lockout) and battled all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.
But the Oilers lost that game to the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 3-1, and they haven't sniffed a deep playoff run since. In fact, the team has made the playoffs just once since then — in 2017 — and has finished with a losing record in 10 out of 13 seasons.
Forwards Ethan Moreau and Jarret Stoll and goalie Dwayne Roloson were a part of the 2006 squad that came agonizingly close to lifting the Stanley Cup.
"I really, truly believe that when we entered the playoffs, we had the best goalie in the world and the best defenseman in the world," Moreau said, referring to Roloson and fellow teammate Chris Pronger, respectively. "I remember sitting on the bench and we scored the first three goals [in Game 1], and I said in my head, 'This is a joke. We're going to win.'"
Edmonton ended up losing that game, with Roloson suffering a sprained MCL during the third period that ruled him out for the rest of the series. It proved to be a pivotal turning point, with Carolina winning the first two games in Raleigh to jump out to an early lead.
"The confidence that Rolly showed right from when we got him, he just instilled that in our team," Stoll said. "We all know that in sports, especially hockey, confidence can do wonders."
After helping guide the eighth-seeded Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, Roloson was forced to watch from the sidelines.
"I was the biggest cheerleader from that point on, just trying to make sure the guys were ready to go day in and day out," he said, as Jussi Markkanen replaced him between the pipes in Game 2. "I remember trying to keep these guys pretty relaxed and trying to get them to win a Game 7. It was an emotional roller coaster."
With Carolina leading the series 2-0, the Oilers returned home to a raucous Northlands Coliseum and managed to win Game 3.
"The simple word is crazy," Roloson said about the atmosphere inside the old Edmonton arena. "I think the city ran out of beer two or three times and everything was getting trucked in from Calgary...I don't think I've been in a city that's been that excited about anything."
"We were on those streets and we were in those bars — probably too much — but we enjoyed it," Moreau added. "We were part of it. After we'd win a series we went out and we'd celebrate with the fans. It was a little bit before social media, probably couldn't do that now, but we enjoyed it because we were actually a part of it and we got to witness it first hand."
Despite the energy of the fans, Edmonton lost Game 4 and found themselves on the brink of elimination. They managed to win the next two games to force a decisive Game 7. But as we know, they fell just a tad short.
Stoll went on to hoist the cup during his time with the Los Angeles Kings, but he says even that hasn't erased the memories and pain of 2006.
"I'm still upset that we lost Game 7 in Carolina," he said. "We had the team, we had all the right ingredients and things were going well. The momentum switched, from when Fernando [Pisani] scored the overtime goal in Game 5 shorthanded, to bring it back for Game 6.
"We played our most dominant game in Game 6 probably, so going into Game 7 you feel it. We had it and we let it slip away. It still hurts for sure."
It has now been almost 15 years since the Oilers fell short in Raleigh. You still have to go back to the days of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky for their most recent Stanley Cup. However, this year's team, led by young superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, was one of the most promising in recent memory. With the current season on pause, only time will tell if the painful legacy of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final will continue to linger in Edmonton.