By Cole Parkinson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
I for one thought the second round Battle of Alberta would have gone longer than five games, but Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers had other ideas. After dropping the first game in an offensive, back and forth game, the Oilers were able to win four straight against their provincial rivals.
The Oilers would post 5-3, 4-1, 5-3, and 5-4 wins en route to a second-round win and none of those games felt particularly close. A lot of the Flames roster was invisible for most of those games. On the other hand, McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, and Evander Kane were potent throughout the entirety of the series. And while Mike Smith may have looked awful in the first game, he bounced back quite nicely in Games 2 through 5 and he will need to elevate even further in the Western Conference Final. With Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Maker, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and the Avs waiting, the challenge is about to get even harder for Edmonton.
Sure, the Avs are favourites in this series, but Edmonton can win this series. Yes, it’s going to be the hardest challenge they’ve faced this far, but the way McDavid has played these playoffs, I could honestly see him carrying a large load in this series. I don’t think a sweep for either side is coming and I expect a long series.
The biggest question that will be answered is — you guessed it — goaltending. It’s Smith versus Darcy Kuemper in round three and I think it’s safe to say both goalies have been shaky in the playoffs so far. Kuemper had a .892 save percentage in the second round against the Blues, which was significantly down from the regular season where he had a .921 save percentage. Was that a minor blip or is that going to continue against Edmonton? Edmonton’s offence has been great for the past five games and I don’t think they’re going to slow down much in this round.
On the other side, Smith posted a .907 save percentage against Calgary and rebounded nicely from being pulled in that hectic Game 1. Like Edmonton, Colorado’s offence is deadly and they will be hoping to exploit Edmonton’s defence and Smith’s goaltending. While I think Kuemper is the better goalie at this stage, Smith has turned back the clock so far and as long as he gives Edmonton average to good goaltending, that could be enough.
And while goaltending is the biggest story, it would be foolish to not look at McDavid versus MacKinnon. Arguably two of the best players in the game going head to head with a date in the Stanley Cup Finals on the line? Sign me up! Both players have been great this postseason, though McDavid has been on another level. He has seven goals and 19 assists in 12 games played and he’s also won 51.2 per cent at the face-off dot. And looking at his Corsi For Percentage, he’s at 62.6 per cent which is incredible. McDavid set a career-best with 123 points this season and that play has carried over into the playoffs.
Mackinnon has also been very good for the Avs as he has eight goals and five assists in 10 games. Sure, the numbers don’t jump off the page as McDavid’s do, but that’s still very good. His CF% is right under McDavid’s at 61.1 per cent as well.
So while Edmonton has the best player in the series, it’s hard to see past Colorado’s entire team as they boast top-end talent, skill, and tons of depth from the first line all the way down to the bottom of the roster. I have a hard time seeing any team in the NHL other than the Tampa Bay Lightning who boasts such a deep roster.
With all that being said, I’ll take Colorado in six. I really have no rooting interest in this series because I’d love either Kadri or Hyman to win a cup and I’ll be rooting for whoever comes out of this series to hoist the Cup this year.