There’s star power galore in the NHL Western Conference Finals. We’ve got Connor McDavid vs. Nathan Mackinnon, Leon Draisaitl vs. Gabriel Landeskog, and Evander Kane vs. Mikko Rantanen. This is the executives at TNT’s dream when they signed a 7-year, $225 million (per year) contract in the offseason.
While the stars will determine how this series plays out, they’ll also be the focal point of each team. The early Vegas Odds give the edge to Colorado, but the Avs will surely need to limit McDavid and Draisaitl to eliminate any chance of the upset. They also must be careful that in doing so doesn’t open up the door for one of these other players to hurt them, despite a 1-0 series lead for the Avs so far:
Hyman was a showstopper against the Flames in the semifinals, scoring in all five games and adding a goal and two assists in the clincher last Thursday. Hyman had just two goals and an assist in the first-round series against the Kings, so he is breaking out at the right time for Edmonton.
Nugent-Hopkins has put in his time with the Oilers, spending his entire 11-year career with Edmonton. There’s been plenty of heartbreak over that span, never getting out of the second round in his previous three postseason appearances with the team. Nugent-Hopkins is trying to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself this season, as he had 4 assists in 5 games vs. Calgary and had a multi-goal outing in Game 4.
The Oilers as a franchise haven’t made the Conference Finals since 2006, so nerves could be an issue on this high-pressure stage. That’s where Duncan Keith’s 16 years of experience in the NHL are going to be an immeasurable asset. Keith hasn’t just played in the NHL, he’s been on the biggest stage winning three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and playing in another two Conference Finals. The 38-year-old looks invigorated, having a goal and two assists in Game 2 vs. Calgary for his first three-point game since 2015.
Bouchard scored 12 goals during the regular season – but found the back of the net three times last round against Calgary. One of those was the equalizer in Game 5 that made the score 4-4 and set up a McDavid score in OT that sent the Oilers to the Conference Finals.
It goes without saying that Smith is going to be a key player as the Edmonton goaltender, but with this high-powered offense sometimes the Oilers defense gets overlooked. Smith gave up 3+ goals in 4 of 5 games vs. Calgary in the semifinals but stopped 61 of 65 shots at home and had a 29 save shutout of the Kings on his own ice in the first round. He had a rough Game 1 against the Avs, but has shown the ability to bounce back.
Draisaitl has landed on the injury report (ankle) ahead of the series opener, so if that becomes problematic as things move forward look for one of these ‘secondary’ players to step up and fill the void. It’s up to the Avs to be on it.