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'You'd think the Oilers are playing in the Super Bowl': Edmonton fans take over Las Vegas for potentially historic NHL game


Hockey fans travelling to Las Vegas to watch their favourite team is commonplace — and observing legions of them from Western Canada in the hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars of the popular tourist destination has become a standard.

At any given game between the host Vegas Golden Knights and one of the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers, seemingly half the crowd at T-Mobile Arena just off the Las Vegas Strip is sporting the colours of the visiting team.

Tuesday night's game is another one of them, but it's got a much different vibe, much more than what's become usual.

And it involves the Oilers, the National Hockey League's hottest team that's on a 16-game winning streak — one victory from tying a league record — coming off a nine-day all-star break and playing a Golden Knights squad that many now consider Edmonton's chief rival.

It was Vegas, after all, that eliminated them in a hotly contested six-game playoff series nine months ago en route to winning the Stanley Cup, something that has resonated with Oilers players and fans alike.

Leon Draisaitl, when asked Monday if Tuesday's game — Edmonton's lone stop in Sin City this regular season — is bigger than other games, the Oilers star shrugged off the significance of a potential win but did offer facing off against the Golden Knights under these circumstances might matter "a little bit" more.

'We want the Cup'

That's not lost on Oilers fans gathered in Las Vegas, either, and while a record-tying win against a bitter rival would fuel their fire for the team, there's an ultimate goal in their minds, too.

"(Many) wins in a row is great, but we want the Cup, so I hope they're not distracted too much by the win streak," Oilers fan Russell Bird told CTV News Edmonton from Las Vegas.

"I hope they have their eyes on the right prize."

Heading into Tuesday's game, the Oilers sit third in the Pacific Division standings, five points behind the Golden Knights, who've played five more games than Edmonton.

Bird described a heightened fan atmosphere everywhere he's gone in the Nevada mecca, including an unexpected sighting of the team in the airport among a sea of supporters wearing blue and orange.

"There were lots of Oilers fans (at the airport), then when the team started coming through, it's just a bit of a shock because you would think they'd be flying out of the private terminal" said Bird, who flew to Las Vegas with his brother-in-law Jeff Moore on Monday to catch the game.

"All of a sudden, there's Draisaitl, there's (Connor) McDavid, there's (head coach Kris) Knoblauch just walking through the airport and then they started coming in two-by-two and fans were cheering and hooting and hollering, and the players were super gracious stopping, taking lots of selfies and chatting with the fans for a few minutes."

What made it even more surprising to Bird: "Down here, it's Super Bowl on Sunday, but the amount of Oilers jerseys you see walking around, you'd think that the Oilers are playing in the Super Bowl."

Edmonton Oilers fan Tanja Baker on Feb. 5, 2024, in Las Vegas, where she will watch the team Feb. 6 play the host Golden Knights. The city is also hosting the NFL's Super Bowl on Feb. 11 (Source: X/@TanjaBaker1)Tanja Baker, another Oilers fan who made the trek to Vegas with a friend, said the feeling before the game is unlike others because of what's at stake, comparable to being a child anticipating opening presents at Christmas.

"You can't sleep because you're so excited. That's kind of how I feel today, and I'm almost 46 years old," Baker told CTV News Edmonton, describing a nervousness "because this is a big game."

"It's not a regular game," Baker said. "Everybody's well aware of the stress that the Oilers are probably under right now, but we're also very excited to be part of something that might be pretty historic for the NHL and for the Oilers."

Chance to witness 'history'

Edmonton media personality Dustin Nielson also made the trip to Vegas to witness potential history and to observe the phenomenon of Oilers nation celebrating their team on the road under extraordinary circumstances.

"We were doing our show live here today, Pacific time 5 a.m., and some Oilers fan kind of stumbled around the corner in a McDavid Jersey," Nielson, who hosts The Nielson Show mornings on Edmonton Sports Talk, told CTV News Edmonton. "He'd been having a pretty good night, so no matter where you look, there are Oilers jerseys in Vegas."

He said the trip to Vegas is "an opportunity" to watch the Oilers "make history."

"Only one team in the history of the National Hockey League has won 17 in a row, and that was a stacked Pittsburgh Penguins team in 1993," Neilson said.

"They ended up not winning the Stanley Cup. I'm sure Oilers fans would deal with the loss tonight if it meant that they did end up winning the Stanley Cup, which will likely go through Vegas in the playoffs as well, so there's a lot on the line."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach Top Stories

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