The NHL playoffs are a different beast than the regular season. So does it ultimately matter if you are playing well heading into the postseason?
I’m not sure there is a correct answer.
I quickly looked at the past 10 Stanley Cup winners to see how they played in their final 10 games heading into the postseason.
2011 Boston Bruins: 6-3-1. They had a .628P% all season and .650 heading to the dance.
2012 Los Angeles Kings: 5-2-3. They were a .579P% all year, but .650 in their final 10 games.
2013 Chicago Blackhawks: 7-2-1. They were a .802P% all season and .750 down the stretch.
2014 Kings: They were 5-3-2. They had a .610P% in the regular season and .600 in final 10 games.
2015 Blackhawks: They were 4-6. They .622P% all year and .400 down the stretch.
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins: Went 8-2. They were .634P% all year, but then .800 in the final 10 games.
2017 Penguins: Went 4-4-2. They were .677P% all year, despite being .500 down the stretch.
2018 Washington Capitals: They went 8-2. They were .640P% all year and then .800 in final 10 games.
2019 St. Louis Blues: Went 8-2. They were a .604P% all season, but .800 down the stretch.
2020 Tampa Bay Lightning: They went 3-6-1. They were a .637P% team all season and .350 down the stretch.
Tampa Bay was in a unique spot. They had over four months off from when the season ended abruptly in mid-March until it started up again in August. Only the 2015 Blackhawks had a losing record down the stretch.
After a slow start, the Oilers have played quite well.
Since February 1st they are 26-11-2. They have the fifth best P% at .692.
Split that in half and in their previous 19 games they are 13-4-2 and have the third best P% at 737.
They haven’t just got hot recently, it has been three months of solid hockey, but it is important they continue that through their final six games.
In 2017, the Oilers went 8-2 down the stretch and qualified for the playoffs. They had a .637P% all year, but were playing their best hockey heading into the playoffs. And it helped them win a round and then lose in seven games in the second round. Edmonton is currently at .640P% on the season and they have a chance to finish even higher with a strong finish.
Connor McDavid believes it is important to play well over these final six games, even if the results might be meaningless in the standings.
“It’s not a light switch. You can’t just turn your game on and off,” said McDavid. “You always have to keep building. I remember in 2017 we were playing some really good hockey and came out and beat a solid San Jose team. Obviously we are hoping for the same this year. We want to go in (to the playoffs) playing our best and give ourselves the best opportunity come game one.”
These final six games likely won’t have much impact on where the Oilers finish. If they go 1-4-1 they still would finish in second spot. If they go 6-0 and Toronto goes 2-2 the Oilers would finish first. Both scenarios are possible, but unlikely, so the Oilers’ focus will be on being crisp, sharp and as Dave Tippett likes to say “in rhythm.”
“You can’t compete for the Stanley Cup unless you make the playoffs. That was the first step,” said Tippett last night.
“Give our guys credit. That was our initial goal and we accomplished that. Our leadership group does a great job in the room. They continue to mature as top players and they really drive the room. That and Schmiddy (Mike Smith) coming in and having a heck of a year for us. Our goaltending has been very solid. The added depth this year has helped. Tyson Barrie has played very well for us. There are a lot of factors that have helped our team build and continue to build in the win column.
“We have to continue to improve in checking. It is not only our play without the puck, but our play with the puck and if we continue to improve it will give us a chance to win,” said Tippett.
Much of the focus, and rightfully so, down the stretch will be on McDavid’s quest for 100 points and joining a pretty exclusive club, but the other things to watch will be how are they playing defensively and how little are they giving up.
It will be a challenge because four of those games are against the Vancouver Canucks, who aren’t that good. They are injured, physically worn down from COVID infecting almost every player on the team, and playing out the season with no hope of making the playoffs. Some might suggest they have no pressure, but neither do the Oilers. A loss won’t ruin their season, so Edmonton will try to continue to sharpen the finer details of their game.
Draisaitl – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – RNH – Yamamoto
Ennis – McLeod– Archibald
Neal – Khaira – Chiasson
Nurse – Barrie
Kulikov – Larsson
Jones – Bear
Dave Tippett said there will be some lineup changes as some players have bumps and bruises. Will Evan Bouchard play?
Mike Smith gets the start. Dmitry Kulikov had another solid game and made a great pass to set up Dominik Kahun’s goal. Outside of two giveaways, I think Kulikov has played quite well and he and Larsson will see a lot of D-zone starts in the playoffs. Maybe Dave Tippett experiments with Ethan Bear or Tyson Barrie with Kulikov for a game, but Tippett likes what he’s seen from the Kulikov/Larsson pair and seems likely to start them together in the playoffs.
Pearson – Horvat – Lind
Höglander – Miller – Boeser
Highmore – Graovac – Hawryluk
Vesey – Boyd – MacEwen
Edler – Schmidt
Hughes – Hamonic
Juolevi – Myers
Vancouver also has a different goalie with Thatcher Demko getting the nod. Vancouver worked hard last night, but they don’t have a lot talent on their roster right now.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
- As I predicted, Connor McDavid would get at least eight points against the Canucks this week and he’s halfway there after only one game. This isn’t miraculous by any means, this is just what he is capable of. McDavid will probably end tonight’s game with three points but don’t be surprised if they’re just assists; even superheroes need a break, too!
- You have to wonder if the Canucks will pass the Senators for sixth in the Scosche (Scotia for the uninformed). Ottawa has played six more games than Vancouver and only sits four points ahead. The way the Canucks are going right now, four points seems like a monumental task. Including tonight, there are three games against the Oilers (four if the TBD game happens), two against the Jets, and four games against the Flames which are yet to be confirmed as well. Nowhere in that schedule right now do I see two remaining wins. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. The NHL should pull the plug on the Canucks season and just leave it be.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton completes the BTB sweep with a 4-1 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Draisaitl scores two points and is on pace for 120 points in an 82-game season.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Puljujarvi produces 1-1-2 for the second game in a row. Then on Thursday he picks up another two points which gives him six points in three games and an early birthday present to himself. He turns 23 on Friday.
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