To borrow from Darryl Sutter, many people believe it’s probably going to be a waste of eight days for the Edmonton Oilers starting tonight as they tangle with Sutter’s Calgary Flames in the second round of the playoffs.
Sutter, of course, was talking about having to face the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche when he made the reference, but it could just as well apply to a matchup that marks the first Battle of Alberta playoff series since 1991. If I’m reading it right, it’s not so much media types predicting the outcome expect the Flames to outclass the Oilers and blow them away, it’s more that they’re seen as a tick better everywhere.
Simply put, the consensus is the Flames have a lot of ways to take care of business in the BOA. The Oilers, meanwhile, need Connor McDavid to go supernova like he did against L.A., Mike Smith to be as good as he’s ever been and their power play to be out of this world or it’s going to be no cigar. In other words, the Flames don’t hold all the cards, but they hold most of them. Hell, even Wayne Gretzky is picking the Flames.
Justin Bourne of Sportsnet, for one, echoes what I’m reading and hearing from media people analyzing the series. He writes: “I see a bunch of ways this goes Calgary’s way, and only one it breaks for the Oilers. The Oilers are no pushover, but I just see so many more paths for the Flames. Because of that, I’m going Flames in 6.” For context, the entire item is here. Over at NHL.com, 11 of 15 writers making predictions are taking the Flames.
Calgary topped the Pacific Division with 111 points. Edmonton was second with 104. The teams split the season series 2-2. The Oilers won 5-2 and 5-3 in the first two meetings of the season while the Flames prevailed 3-1 and 9-5 in the back half of the series. Edmonton’s power play held a huge advantage in the series. McDavid, who had 14 points in seven games vs. the Kings, always lights up the Flames. The numbers we know.
I’m taking the Oilers, and here’s why, but with a not-so-minor caveat — the health of Leon Draisaitl, who played Game 7 against the Kings with a high ankle sprain. I don’t see how the Oilers win this series if Draisaitl, who led the Oilers with 5-6-11 against the Flames, can’t play beyond giving the ankle a test tonight. If he can get into every game, even playing reduced minutes, he’ll have an impact. Draisaitl is as big a wild card as you can get.
WHAT ABOUT MIKE?
If I’m picking a goaltender to build a team in front of, I’m taking Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom of the Flames over Mike Smith every day of the week, especially when you look at Smith’s birth certificate. I’m not so sure I see such a significant difference when it comes to winning a seven-game series here and now. I still give the edge to Markstrom, who was .943 in the first round, over Smith, .928, but it’s tight. And can you imagine how much Smith would love to beat his former team? That’s fuel for him.
EVANDER AND ZACH
McDavid, coming off back-to-back career-defining games, Draisaitl and Smith will have the biggest impact on Oilers fortunes, but Zach Hyman and Evander Kane are two difference-makers who represent a huge upgrade on Edmonton’s forward group. Not only does Kane lead the Oilers with seven goals this post season, he plays an edgy, physical game the Oilers have lacked. And what’s not to like about Hyman? He never gives up on a puck. He goes to and excels in tough areas. Hyman has 39 NHL playoff games on his resume and Kane has 36. This is the depth that was previously lacking.
THE JOLLY RANCHER AND JAY
I’m looking forward to the match-up between Sutter, who has coached 1,397 regular season NHL games and 177 in the playoffs, and Jay Woodcroft, who has just 38 regular season games (26-9-3) and seven in the post-season on his resume. I’m not going to put too much into the gaudy .724 clip Woodcroft has behind the bench since taking over from Dave Tippett because 38 games do not a career make, but the players seem to be buying what Woodcroft is selling. That buy-in, and the way this team has adopted an all-for-one-and-one-for-all mantra, matters. Fans around here have seen it make a difference before.
CAPTAIN OBVIOUS SAYS . . .
Fans in Edmonton have been blessed with so many memorable performances in the BOA and on the road to five Stanley Cups by the likes of Gretzky and Mark Messier during the dynasty days, but what we’re seeing now from McDavid with the way he elevated his play in the final two games with Los Angeles is nothing short of mesmerizing. McDavid has already made it known he’ll throw this team on his shoulders if that’s what it takes.
Oilers in seven games.
THE GAME 1 VIEWING PARTY
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- MacT’s Take
- Off the Top of My Head
- Lucy Strikes Again
- The Next One
- Off the Top of My Head
- Pour It On