The Edmonton Oilers are back in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since their Stanley Cup run in 2006. Knocking off their bitter-in-province rival in the Calgary Flames, Connor McDavid‘s overtime winner in game five helped the team advance. They are set to square off with the Colorado Avalanche. Jared Bednar’s group was finally able to get out of the second round for the first time since 2019. Yet to trail in a series so far during the postseason, the franchise was able to stave off a comeback bid from the St Louis Blues with a hard-fought victory in game six. The Avalanche captured the season series 2-1. Look for this to be a high-flying slate of games with no shortage of star power on either side.
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Mike Smith has bounced back after a disappointing regular season. Improving his play after a rocky start to the playoffs, the 40-year-old owns an 8-3 record with a 2.70 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, and two shutouts. Strong down the stretch to help his team knock off the Flames, he stopped 61 of 68 shots in games four and five. The Oilers will need the Saskatoon native to continue to make timely saves if they hope to pull off the upset.
On the flip side, Darcy Kuemper has failed to build off his Vezina caliber campaign. The former sixth-round pick sits 16th among goaltenders in save percentage (.904) and seventh in goals-against average (2.44). He needs to provide more to help his team advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Edmonton made multiple additions to its blue line at the trade deadline. Choosing to roll all three pairings, the group is led by their number one defenseman, Darnell Nurse. Much improved in their own zone, veteran Brett Kulak has helped provide a stabilizing presence. Playing on the team’s third pairing alongside Tyson Barrie, the longtime Montreal Canadien is averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per night.
Home to one of the best defensive cores in the game, the Avalanche are guided by Cale Makar. He is nominated for the Norris Trophy once again. The former fourth overall pick is tied for the team lead in points with 13. Paired with the play of Devon Toews, Bowen Byram, and Josh Manson, Colorado’s back end will look to have a significant edge.
Once again, one of the best power plays during the regular season, the Oilers clicked at a 26 percent rate, the second-highest mark in the league. Picking up right where they left off in the postseason, the team has scored 11 goals on 39 attempts with the man advantage. Quarterbacked up top by Tyson Barrie, Leon Draisaitl, and McDavid flank him on the right and the left. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins operates the bumper spot while offseason acquisition Zach Hyman handles the net-front duties.
Like Edmonton, Colorado was also one of the best clubs in the NHL with the extra man. They hit on 24 percent of their opportunities during their first 82 games. Currently leading the playoffs in power play percentage, the Avalanche have scored on 10 of their 29 chances. Running everything through Makar, the unit is full of dangerous options with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.
In the midst of one of the best stretches of play in postseason history, McDavid has been brilliant for the Oilers. The two-time Hart Trophy winner has recorded six goals and 17 assists in 10 games. He has racked up at least two points in every contest except one. Along with this, Draisaitl has also been excellent for the group. Banged up after suffering an ankle injury against the Los Angeles Kings, the 26-year-old amassed 17 points in just five games against the Flames.
Mackinnon was held in check for a large part of Colorado’s series against the Blues. However, the Cole Harbour native has begun to make his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He helped his team get over the second-round hump. The nine-year veteran finished with four points in game five, including his second career playoff hat trick.
Continuing to pay dividends after they signed him to a one-year contract in late January, one name to watch for Edmonton will be Evander Kane. The 30-year-old forward has been red hot throughout the postseason. He is leading the team in goals (12) while sitting third in points (15). Playing on a line alongside McDavid and Draisaitl, the longtime San Jose Shark has amassed two hat tricks. This is while posting a shooting percentage of 23.5 percent.
Cementing his case as the NHL’s best defenseman through two rounds, Makar continues to make things happen from the back end. He is leading the Avalanche in ice time with over 26 minutes averaged per night. Along with this, the Calgary native has also upped his physicality while remaining a crucial piece on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Hired by the Oilers in February, following the firing of former head coach Dave Tippett, Jay Woodcroft has quickly proved his worth. He pulled the group out of a midseason slump at the time. The longtime assistant coach has led them to the conference finals for the second time in the last two decades. Drawing praise from his players, the 45-year-old stresses a winning culture with added attention to detail.
Recently becoming the winningest head coach in Avalanche history, Bednar continues to be one of the game’s brightest minds. He led Colorado to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. The perfect leader for the team, the former Calder Cup champion, stresses playing fast and moving the puck quickly out of the defensive zone to earn more shots and scoring chances.
Edmonton and Colorado are set to square off in the postseason for the first time since 1998. The Oilers are looking to get back to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in over 15 years. They have been trending in the right direction all year long after hiring Woodcroft. Catching fire thanks to the stellar play of their two superstars in McDavid and Draisaitl, the team has also seen a resurgence in goal from Smith.
However, the Avalanche have one of the deepest forward cores around the NHL. The team has the speed and skill to match up. Like McDavid, MacKinnon also appears to be on a mission to get to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in his career. In a hard-fought series, look for the season-long betting favorites to come out on top.
Series Prediction: Colorado 4-3
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