EDMONTON, AB – The Oilers hit the ice at Rogers Place to begin to the preparation for their Western Conference Final series with the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
The emphasis in Round 3 begins and ends with one thing: Speed.
The Oilers and the Avalanche may be blessed with the two fastest players in the National Hockey League in Connor McDavid and Nathan Mackinnon, but both teams play with a high pace in their transition game.
“Dynamic skaters,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said about the Avalanche team. “I think we’ve played Colorado well throughout the year. They have some natural gifts, but so do we. Certainly, as we weave our way through the series, they are going to have some moments but we’re going to have good moments as well. We’re going to do some things to try and prepare our team for the level of speed and skill that will be on the ice.”
“I think the way that we’ve played heading into the playoffs and the way we’ve continued to grow in the last two series, we’re playing fast,” Tyson Barrie said. “Obviously, we’re watching their series and they are as fast as anyone in the league. It’s going to be an exciting match-up, it’s going to be fast and skilled, but we have to stick to our structure and try to slow them down at points”
When the two clubs have clashed this year, it has been a tightly contested showcase of the tempo that elite hockey players and teams can play with.
The Oilers will enter the series with a 1-0-2 record against the Avalanche in the regular season, but in both games that the Oilers were unsuccessful against their Conference Final opponent, the results came outside of regulation.
Colorado picked up a 3-2 victory on March 21 courtesy of a 3-on-3 overtime winner by Nathan Mackinnon, and a 2-1 win on April 9 off a shootout winner also by the Avalanche’s alternate captain. Edmonton capped of their series against the Avalanche with an emphatic 6-3 win at Rogers place on April 21, a victory which clinched a playoff berth for the Oilers.
“I think what those three games showed our team, especially at that time, was that we were a team that could play with the best in the league,” Woodcroft said. “Colorado at that time was fighting for the Presidents Trophy. They were at the top of the league, by us playing the way we did in those games, it showed that we have what it takes to play with the best in the league. In some of those games, it comes down to an extra play made either way. For us, we know the challenge that is before us.”
This time around their will be no ‘skills challenge’ out for Colorado. The two teams will get to test their mettle against one another in regulation or a full five-on-five overtime like the one in Game 5 against the Calgary Flames that sent the Oilers to the third round.
The Oilers will draw on the experiences over the last two series to prepare them for what should be a hard fought battle to earn a chance to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize.
“I think we did learn a lot about our team over those two series. At this time of year, you have to be prepared to win in different fashions,” Woodcroft said. “We found our way against a really tight-checking, neutral zone-specific team in LA. Then to go and beat your arch-rival in five games in some pretty interesting fashions. Both of those teams represented different challenges for us to find our way and navigate our way through each series.I think that serves us well. It strengthens and hardens our belief that we do have the people in our locker room that we can get it done and we can get it done in different ways.”
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