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GDB +12.0: Are the Oilers Just Better? (7:30pm MT, Sportsnet)

Are the Edmonton Oilers simply a better team than the Calgary Flames? They might be according to Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.

“Maybe our guys are doing all they can. Maybe Edmonton is just a little bit better,” Sutter suggested at his morning availability. “That’s kind of the (sidenote) that nobody’s talked about. It’s always been about the negative. Not the good stuff that’s gone on.”

Calgary played better in game four, but it wasn’t enough to defeat the Oilers. Edmonton’s top line combined for seven points, on what was a quieter game for them.

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The Flames top line of Matthew Tkachuk, @Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau dominated teams in the regular season, but they never faced a line of Evander Kane, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on a nightly basis. Heck, the Oilers never played them regularly as a line in the regular season.

But since Jay Woodcroft put them together they’ve been outstanding. They’ve combined for nine goals and 30 points and eight of the goals have been even strength. That trio is more skilled, faster, and bigger than the Flames top line, and unless the Flames manage to outwork them this matchup favours the Oilers.

Calgary desperately needs Tkachuk to be more involved. He hasn’t been involved in the play enough, partly because Edmonton is moving the puck quickly before Tkachuk can stir the pot. He’s tried to engage the Oilers after the whistle with slashes and face washes, but the Oilers have tuned him out. Since game one he hasn’t been a factor. He is -4 with one assist. No question the Oilers top players have been much better than Calgary’s.

The great news for the Oilers is it is hard to envision the McDavid line suddenly getting dominated. They are too skilled, too fast and, right now, too driven to suddenly get overwhelmed. Best case scenario for Calgary is they draw even, but thus far Draisaitl (13) has as many points as Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Lindholm combined. It hasn’t been a fair fight. The Oilers’ top dogs have chewed up the Flames’ top scorers through four games.

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The key tonight for Edmonton will be to manage the start of the game much better than they did in games one and two in Calgary. They were down 2-0 only 51 seconds into game one, and it was 3-0 six minutes in. They trailed 2-0 at the six minute mark in game two, but managed to come back and win. Matching the Flames’ desperation and intensity early in the game will be key.

Maybe Sutter was just trying to fire up his guys by suggesting the Oilers are better, or maybe it is the truth.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Kane – McDavid – Draisaitl
Hyman – RNH – Puljujarvi
Foegele – McLeod – Yamamoto
Archibald – Ryan – Kassian

Nurse – Ceci
Keith – Bouchard
Kulak – Barrie

Smith

Don’t expect any lineup changes for the Oilers. Evander Kane will arrive in Calgary this afternoon after he and his girlfriend welcome their son, Iverson Frank Kane, into the world yesterday. @Leon and Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse didn’t skate, which is normal, but are expected to play.

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Flames

Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Dube – Jarnkrok – Toffoli
Lucic – Lewis –

Hanafin – Andersson
Kylington – Tanev
Zadorov – Gudbranson
Stone

Markstrom

Will Sutter continue to run his top line against McDavid, or will he split it up and use the Backlund line more? The Lindholm line had solid possession numbers, but were still outscored 1-0. Shot attempts aren’t as important as goals, and moral victories mean very little in the playoffs. The Flames will need their other lines to step up.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Flamesnation.ca:

Jacob Markstrom [5-6, 2.78 GAA, .906 SV%] starts in net, backed up by Daniel Vladar. The scratches are expected to be goalie Adam Werner, blueliners Connor Mackey and Juuso Valimaki, and forwards Brett RitchieRyan Carpenter and Adam Ruzicka. No changes are expected for the Flames and all indications are that Chris Tanev will be in the lineup again after returning in Game 4.

Give the Flames credit, they played their game and played quite well in Game 4, giving themselves a chance to win. Unfortunately, it was the first time they’ve really played their game all series and they probably deserve to be down 3-1 given how well Edmonton’s played relative to the Flames. For the Flames’ sake, hopefully Game 4’s return to form is a permanent state and they’ll bring that kind of consistency and attention to detail for the remainder of the series.

The Flames need to win three games in a row to advance. The best way to win three games in a row is to start with winning a single game and then going from there.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton continues their solid play and knocks the Flames out of the playoffs with a 4-2 victory.

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OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kane scores his 13th goal of the playoffs which ties him for 10th most among Oilers in one playoff year.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hyman had five goals in 32 playoff games with Toronto. He scores for the 5th consecutive games and tallies his 6th goal of the series.

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