(1C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (2P) Edmonton Oilers
Avalanche: 56-19-7 (119 points), defeated Nashville Predators 4-0 in first round, St. Louis Blues 4-2 in second round
Oilers: 49-27-6 (104 points), defeated Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in first round, Calgary Flames 4-1 in second round
Season series: COL 2-1-0; EDM 1-0-2
Game 1: Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS)
Two of the best players in the NHL in Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid will face off when their teams meet in the Western Conference Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This will be the third time Colorado and Edmonton have met in the postseason. The Avalanche won in five games in the 1997 conference semifinals, and the Oilers won in seven games in the conference quarterfinals the following season.
Colorado is playing in the conference final for the first time since 2002, when it lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings. Edmonton is playing in the conference final for the first time since 2006, when it advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Colorado was led in the regular season by MacKinnon, who had five points (three goals, two assists) in the three games against Edmonton. Darcy Kuemper started each game and went 2-1-0 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie, who played is his first eight NHL seasons with the Avalanche from 2011-19, knows what makes MacKinnon special.
“Getting to play with him and his work ethic and the way he prepares and treats his body reminds me a lot of [McDavid],” Barrie said. “They’re at the top of their game and they’re taking care of themselves to make sure they are at the top of their game. From a playing standpoint, you guys are watching like we are. He’s a powerful, skilled player that can do it all. He’ll be a handful, but nothing we can’t handle.”
Edmonton was led by forward Evander Kane, who had five points (four goals, one assist) in the three regular-season games against Colorado. McDavid (four assists) and Leon Draisaitl (two assists) combined for six points but did not score a goal.
Mike Smith started two games against Colorado, going 1-0-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .912 save percentage. Mikko Koskinen made 33 saves in his only start, a 2-1 shootout loss on April 9.
Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said he believes practicing against MacKinnon will help them against McDavid.
“Sometimes we take a lot of line rushes against Nate in practice and you’re kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is what this feels like.’ It’s a handful,” Johnson said. “They’re always going to make plays and find a way to generate chances, just how many are you going to let them have and how many are they going to generate? But it definitely does help. When you go against the best, sometimes it makes it a little bit easier in the games.”
Avalanche: MacKinnon was held in check by the Blues for the most part in their second-round series, but he reminded everyone in Game 5 just how dangerous he is. MacKinnon finished with four points in that game, including scoring his second career playoff hat trick. MacKinnon has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 10 playoff games, which is tied with Cale Makar for the Avalanche lead.
Oilers: It’s a bit of a toss-up between McDavid and Draisaitl, who each has seven goals and 19 assists in 12 playoff games. Draisaitl finished with a staggering 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in five games against the Flames, and McDavid had 12 points (three goals, nine assists), including the series-clinching goal in overtime in Game 5. So instead of choosing just one, Colorado needs to be cognizant of both at all times.
Avalanche: Kuemper missed Game 4 of the first round against the Predators after sustaining an eye injury late in the first period of Game 3, but he was able to return against the Blues and start every game of that series. Kuemper has had some ups and downs this postseason, but he is 6-2 with a 2.44 GAA and .904 save percentage. Pavel Francouz, who filled in for Kuemper against Nashville, is 2-0 with a 2.97 GAA and .902 save percentage.
Oilers: Smith has started every game this postseason, going 8-3 with a 2.70 GAA, .927 save percentage and two shutouts. The 40-year-old finished strong against Calgary in the second round after being replaced early in Game 1 by Koskinen, who allowed five goals on 37 shots.
Numbers to know
Avalanche: 34.5. Power-play percentage in the playoffs for Colorado, the best in the NHL. The Avalanche are 10-for-29 with the man-advantage, picking up right where they left off in the regular season, when they finished seventh in the NHL at 24 percent.
Oilers: 4.33. Goals per game in the playoffs for Edmonton, the best in the NHL. The Oilers have scored at least four goals in eight of their 12 games, and at least five goals in six.
Avalanche: Makar. He may have only had three assists against the Blues, but whether or not he ends up on the score sheet, the defenseman can always make things happen. Makar leads the Avalanche in ice time per game in the playoffs (26:42), and he’s a critical piece on both the power play and penalty kill.
Oilers: Kane didn’t enter this postseason with a ton of playoff experience, but that hasn’t mattered. The forward has been outstanding for the Oilers, leading the team with 12 goals and a shooting percentage of 23.5. His 15 points are also third behind McDavid and Draisaitl.
They said it
“Playing Edmonton all year, they have a really tight structure with [Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft] there. So it’s a tough team to play against. They don’t give you much, and they’re committed to both sides of the puck, despite the narrative around that team. Obviously, that’s probably changing now, but a really tough team to play against. It’s going to be a full-team effort to shut those guys down. Got to stay out of the box as well, but we’re confident. We feel if we play our best, we can get it done against anybody.” — Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon
“I think we played Colorado well throughout the year. They have some natural gifts, we have some natural gifts, and certainly as we weave our way through this series, they’re going to have some moments, but we’ll have good moments as well. We’re going to do some things to try to prepare our team for that level of speed and skill that will be on the ice.” — Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft
Will win if …
Avalanche: They can get more depth scoring. Everyone knows what to expect from MacKinnon, Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, but when it mattered most in Game 6 against the Blues, the Avalanche got two goals from J.T. Compher while fourth-line forward Darren Helm scored the series-clinching goal with 5.6 seconds remaining. If Colorado gets that production again, it will advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.
Oilers: If Smith is at his best. He faced a high-powered offense in the Flames in the second round, and the Avalanche are going to present that same challenge. Smith can’t allow any soft goals if the Oilers want to advance to Cup Final for the first time since 2006.
How they look
Avalanche projected lineup
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Artturi Lehkonen
Valeri Nichushkin — Nazem Kadri — Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky — J.T. Compher — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Scratched: Nico Sturm, Alex Newhook, Ryan Murray, Kurtis MacDermid, Trent Miner
Injured: Samuel Girard (sternum)
Oilers projected lineup
Evander Kane — Connor McDavid — Leon Draisaitl
Zach Hyman — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Jesse Puljujarvi
Warren Foegele — Ryan McLeod — Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald — Derek Ryan — Zack Kassian
Darnell Nurse — Cody Ceci
Duncan Keith — Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak — Tyson Barrie
Scratched: Philip Broberg, Devin Shore, Derick Brassard, Kris Russell