First Round Preview: Western Conference

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For our preview of the Eastern Conference, check out Corey Abbott's article here.

(C1) COLORADO AVALANCHE VERSUS (WC2) NASHVILLE PREDATORS

For most series, the question is: Who will win? For this one, it’s simply: Can Nashville win? The Predators are a good team, but the gap between these two squads is significant and if Predators starting goaltender Juuse Saros (lower body) ends up being unavailable...well, let’s put it this way, The Athletic ran 50,000 simulations of the playoffs, and gave the Colorado Avalanche a 92.48% chance of winning this series. That’s the best odds of any team to get past the first round by a meaningful margin, but of course anything is possible, however remote it might be. So let’s frame the conversation like this: What needs to happen for the Predators to pull off what would arguably be the biggest upset of the year?

Having a healthy Saros would be a great start, but let’s assume that he’s not going to be available at the start of the series. That puts a ton of pressure on David Rittich, who frankly might not be up for the challenge. The Predators didn’t just lean on Saros this season because he’s one of the league’s best goaltenders, they did so because Rittich has left plenty to be desired with his 3.57 GAA and .886 save percentage in 17 contests. If you combine Rittich’s struggles with an offense that features Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin and (if he’s healthy) Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche are likely to end up scoring a lot of goals.

The Predators may simply have to respond in kind. Avalanche starter Darcy Kuemper had a fantastic season with a 2.54 GAA and .921 save percentage in 57 starts, but he won’t be facing the traditional Nashville Predators, which used to be known first-and-foremost for their defensive play. These Predators are capable of making life difficult for opposing goaltenders.

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Filip Forsberg and former Avalanche Matt Duchene scored 43 and 42 goals respectively during the regular season. Nashville needs that duo to be at their best in the first round. The Predators – as well as much of the hockey world – will also be looking at the matchup of defenseman Roman Josi vs. Cale Makar. Those are the two top Norris Trophy candidates, but in terms of raw offensive numbers, the Predators’ Josi had the better season with 23 goals and 96 points in 80 contests. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Nashville put Josi out for around 27 minutes a game in the playoffs and they’ll need his help at both ends of the ice.

The Predators also have some additional offensive depth in Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen, who contributed 64 and 63 points respectively, though in a battle of depth, the Avalanche are the clear winners. It’s not just in terms of forwards either. While Josi vs. Makar is a key matchup, the Avalanche have a second defenseman who is nearly as good in Devon Toews. And we’ve already gone over what a big loss Saros if for the Predators, but if the Avalanche were to lose Kuemper, it wouldn’t be as big of a blow. It’d hurt Colorado of course, but they have a pretty good backup in Pavel Francouz.

That said, the better team on paper doesn’t always win. In fact, the Predators actually won three of four games in their season series.

In all three of those games, the Predators had one of those offensive stars lead the way. Forsberg had two goals and an assist in the first win, Duchene scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, in the second one, and Josi had a goal and an assist in the third. So when the Predators’ top players step up, they are capable of overcoming that gap.

Will they be able to do that consistency enough over the course of a seven game series? I doubt it, but we’ve seen stranger things happen in past NHL playoffs.

Players to Watch

Matt DucheneDuchene’s connection with the Colorado Avalanche makes him a particularly fun player to keep an eye on, but it goes beyond that. He’s also having the best season of his career to date with 43 goals and 86 points in 78 contests. One thing he hasn’t had yet is much playoff success. He did play a big role in the Blue Jackets’ surprising sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and respectful showing against Boston in 2019, scoring five goals and 10 points in 10 contests, but that’s the only example of him playing for a team that got past the first round. You know he’d love to be part of another 2019 Blue Jackets-like upset, especially with it against his former squad.

Nazem Kadri Kadri has an unfortunate reputation for getting into trouble in the playoffs and being suspended. It was a problem for Toronto in the past and the issue came up again during Colorado’s 2021 playoff run when he was suspended for eight games. That’s hurt his teams in the past, but it’d be an even bigger problem if he got suspended this year because of how important he’s been to the Avalanche’s offense. Kadri had a career season with 28 goals and 87 points in 71 contests this season. That success comes with heightened expectations.

Andre BurakovskyAn underrated part of the Avalanche’s success has been Burakovsky. He’s a valuable secondary scorer who provided the Avalanche with 22 goals and 61 points in 80 contests in 2021-22. However, he’s also been a bit hot-and-cold and his recent playoff runs have been all over the place. He went from recording two points in seven playoff games with Washington in 2019, 17 points in 15 contests with Colorado in 2020, and then just four points in 10 contests during the 2021 postseason. So which Burakovsky will Colorado get during this run?

Ryan Johansen Duchene and Forsberg were the Predators’ top forwards, but Ryan Johansen wasn’t far behind with 26 goals and 63 points in 79 games. Critically, Johansen is hot going into the first round with nine goals and 14 points in his last 15 contests. He’s also traditionally done well in the postseason, scoring 19 goals and 52 points over 63 career games.

Additional Series Notes

Ryan Murray’s (hand) status for Game 1 isn’t clear, but the Avalanche’s big question mark is Gabriel Landeskog. He’s been skating, but hasn’t played since March 10 due to a knee injury. Naturally the Avalanche are expected to be secretive given that we’re in the playoffs so Landeskog will probably be termed as a game-time decision.

On the Predators side, naturally Juuse Saros’ (lower body) fate is critical for them. Coach John Hynes said he was “hopeful” Saros would return for the playoffs, but we’ll just have to wait-and-see. It’s also possible that Saros will attempt to return without being 100%. Players work through injuries all the time, especially in the playoffs, but you have to wonder if Saros’ injury might lessen his effectiveness even if he does play. Outside of that, Jeremy Lauzon (lower body) has been skating, but hasn’t played since April 16.

This matchup will feature two veteran coaches who are searching for their first championship as a bench boss. Predators coach John Hynes has a 242-233-55 record as a bench boss, but he hasn’t found success in the playoffs yet as indicated by his career 4-11 record. Jared Bednar is entering his sixth campaign as Colorado’s head coach and the team has enjoyed a 240-168-46 regular season record under him. The Avalanche have never gotten past the second round under his watch though and he might take significant heat if the Avalanche suffer an early exit from these playoffs.

One area where both of these teams excel is on the power-play. Nashville ranked sixth in the league by converting on 24.4% of their power-play opportunities while Colorado finished just behind them with a 24% success rate. They were also similarly mediocre on the penalty kill. Colorado finished 15th in the NHL by killing 79.7% of their penalties while Nashville finished 18th at 79.2%. The moral of the story is that staying out of the sin bin is the best defense either team has, which is a bigger problem for Nashville given that they tied for a league-most minor penalties with 312. Colorado played a somewhat more disciplined game, taking 271 minor penalties.

This is the second time these two teams have matched up in the playoffs. The first was in 2018 when the Predators beat the Avalanche in six games. It’s worth noting though that the Predators were actually the heavy favorites going into that series, so things have changed significantly.

(C2) MINNESOTA WILD VERSUS (C3) ST. LOUIS BLUES

When the Minnesota Wild announced last summer that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter would both be bought out, it marked the completion of a changing of the guard that had already been set in motion. Nowadays, the Wild are the team of Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, and of course Kirill Kaprizov. All four of those forwards scored at least 25 goals this season and in the case of Kaprizov and Fiala, they also recorded 108 and 85 points respectively. They’re also all under the age of 28, giving the Wild and enviable core set to compete for years to combine. Combined with veteran Mats Zuccarello, who had 24 goals and 79 points in 70 games, and the Wild are a tough team to defend, which is a problem for St. Louis given that they’re entering this series without a clear starter.

Jordan Binnington is the goalie that led the Blues on their amazing 2019 Stanley Cup run, but he’s struggled this season with a 3.13 GAA and .901 save percentage in 37 starts. On top of that, his last two playoff runs left plenty to be desired and you’d actually have go back to that 2019 championship to find the last time he won a postseason game. It might be time to give Ville Husso a chance. He has no playoff experience and just 57 career NHL contests under his belt, but he was solid this season with a 25-7-6 record, 2.56 GAA, and .919 save percentage. That said Husso didn’t fare particularly good against the Wild during the regular season, allowing eight goals on 74 shots. So we’ll see how that goes.

The funny thing is though, even if the Blues end up struggling in goal, that doesn’t guarantee that this series will go for Minnesota. Those two Husso games I just mentioned were both wins for the Blues in spite of the defensive troubles.

As good as the Wild’s offense is, the St. Louis Blues are capable of matching them. A big part of that has been Vladimir Tarasenko’s resurgence campaign and the strides taken by Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jordan Kyrou this season, but that’s not the whole story. The Blues also have a crazy amount of depth. Nine different forwards on this team finished the season with at least 20 goals. For comparison, the Wild had six forwards who reached the 20-goal milestone this season.

St. Louis can truly roll out three effective scoring lines, which stretches enemy defenses thin. That said, the Wild do have a strong blueline to fall back on. Mathew Dumba, Jonas Bodin, and Jared Spurgeon are strong top-three and while each of them spent time on the sidelines this season, it looks like the Wild will have all of them available for Game 1. Minnesota also has an interesting one-two punch in net between Cam Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury. It will be interesting to see which of them starts in Game 1, but certainly both of them have plenty of experience and each is capable of carrying their team through difficult stretches.

It’s unique that neither team has a clear starter going into Game 1, but that’s one are where the Wild would seem to have the advantage. In terms defensemen though? As noted the Wild have a strong group, but the Blues strong in that regard too. Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, and Torey Krug were already doing a great job of headlining St. Louis before the Blues acquired Nick Leddy from Detroit, but Leddy has fit in beautifully to make St. Louis nearly as deep on defense as they are up front.

At the end of the day, depth is critical in the playoffs and it may be what carries the Blues through this series. Minnesota will certainly make it tough and Talbot or Fleury have the potential to be difference makers, but the Blues have a slight edge going into this series.

Players to Watch

Kirill KaprizovKaprizov had an outstanding rookie season, but it ended with a lukewarm showing in the playoffs. He was limited to two goals and three points in seven games as Minnesota lost in the first round to the Golden Knights. Kaprizov has done even better in his sophomore campaign and now that he’s had a taste of NHL playoff hockey, the Wild will be looking for him to lead the Wild’s offense.

Marc-Andre FleuryThere’s no guarantee that Fleury will start in the playoffs over Cam Talbot, but if he does, it would be another chapter in what has been the lengthy story of Fleury’s playoff escapades. Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with 90 career postseason wins to his name, but he hasn’t always been a lock in the postseason. Matt Murray ended up replacing him during the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup runs and Fleury had some rough postseason runs in the middle of his career. And yet, he also carried Vegas all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 and he outdueled Talbot when the Golden Knights and Wild met in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Minnesota knows firsthand that Fleury is not to be underestimated.

Vladimir TarasenkoTarasenko is one of the best stories of the 2020-21 campaign. He played in just 34 games over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaign and his stock had fallen so much due to concerns about his health that the Seattle Kraken passed on him in the expansion draft. Finally healthy though, Tarasenko battled back in 2021-22, scoring 34 goals and a career-high 82 points in 75 games. Tarasenko was an important part of the Blues’ championship in 2019. Now that he’s healthy, St. Louis is hoping that he can be that guy again. Certainly his regular season success gives merit to that line of thinking.

Jordan KyrouKyrou has just one goal in nine career playoff games, but unlike in years past, the Blues will be looking for him to play a much bigger role in this playoff run. After all, he broke out this season with 27 goals and 75 points in 74 contests. He has momentum going into the series too with two goals and seven points in his last three contests.

Additional Series Notes

For Minnesota, the good news is that Mats Zuccarello (lower body) appears to be close to returning and might be back in the lineup for Game 1. Marcus Foligno though is another story. He was involved in a knee-on-knee collision with Colorado’s Kurtis MacDermid on Friday and his status for the start of the playoffs is in question. It’d be a shame if he can’t participate in the playoffs or alternatively plays at meaningfully less than 100% because of an injury sustained right before the campaign ended.

When it comes to the Blues’ health, there’s a good chance that Brayden Schenn will be available for Game 1 despite being out since April 21 due to an upper-body injury. Marco Scandella suffered a lower-body injury on Tuesday, but he might be in the lineup for Game 1 as well.

The Wild and Blues are two teams that have been consistent presences in the playoffs for a while. This is the 10th time in the last 11 years that the Blues have made the playoffs and Minnesota’s 9th trip to the postseason in the last 10 years. Minnesota hasn’t made it past the second round though over that span and hasn’t won a playoff series at all since 2015. The Blues on the other hand won it all in 2019, though they have lost in the first round in each of the last two years.

Minnesota and St. Louis faced off in the first round of the 2015 and 2017 playoffs. As alluded to above, that 2015 series was the last time the Wild won in the playoffs. They defeated St. Louis in six games. However, in 2017 the Blues won in five.

The Blues dominated on special teams this year, finishing second on the power play (27.0%) and fifth on the penalty kill (84.1%). By contrast the Wild left plenty to be desired, ranking 18th on the power play (20.5%) and 25th on the penalty kill (76.1%). Minnesota had the worst penalty kill of any team that made the playoffs.

(P1) CALGARY FLAMES VERSUS (WC1) DALLAS STARS

Calgary has had talent for a while, but they’ve underperformed for much of Johnny Gaudreau’s tenure with the team. Maybe it was the addition of head coach Darryl Sutter or goaltender Jacob Markstrom settling in or the core maturing or some combination of those factors, but this year everything just seemed to click for the Flames.

The core of this team, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk has been together for four years now, but in 2019-20 and 2020-21, the Flames still ranked in the bottom half of the league in goals scored. This year they were one of the league’s top offensive squads and part of that success was because of how the Flames’ top trio stepped up. Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Tkachuk each finished the season with at least 40 goals. That makes this the first Flames team since 1993-94 to feature three 40-goal scorers. They’re also the only team to do so this season. On top of that, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Lindholm each set career-highs in points with 115, 104, and 82 respectively.

Of course it didn’t hurt that Andrew Mangiapane had the best offensive season of his career to date with 35 goals and 55 points. Or that Tyler Toffoli clicked with the Flames after being acquired by Montreal, providing the Flames with 11 goals and 23 points in 37 contests after the acquisition. Or the fact that Calgary had two defensemen with over 45 points in Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin. The Flames might not have the deepest offense, but they certainly have a dangerous core.

Then of course there’s Markstrom. His first season in 2020-21 with the Flames wasn’t great, but he bounced right back this season to be one of the league’s top goaltenders with a 37-15-9 record, 2.22 GAA, and .922 save percentage in 63 starts. When you combine the Flames’ offensive prowess with a goaltender like Markstrom, what you get is a dangerous combination.

Finding a way to overcome that is the task of the Dallas Stars, who just barely squeaked into the playoffs. Dallas doesn’t have as impressive a trio as Calgary, but the Stars do have a strong core in their own right with Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz leading the charge. Pavelski led the team offensively and set a new career-high with 81 points in 82 games, which is amazing given that he’s 37-years-old. He’s a veteran of 161 playoff games and has been to the finals twice before, but lost both times. The Stars are going into this series with low expectations, but you know Pavelski won’t want to waste this opportunity and he’ll be pushing that message on his teammates as well. You only get so many shots at the Cup and he’s running out of his.

We’ll have to see if Dallas gets much out of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Those two used to be the heart of this team, but over the last few years they’ve faded into the periphery. Still, under the right circumstances they can steal a game and the Stars certainly need all the help they can get.

There will also be plenty of pressure on Jake Oettinger. Dallas had a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final back in 2020 and that was fueled in part by goaltender Anton Khudobin. This time around, the Stars will be hoping that Oettinger gets hot at the right time. The young netminder has certainly had a solid campaign with a 30-15-1 record, 2.53 GAA, and .914 save percentage in 48 games, but it’s hard to give the Stars the edge in goaltender over Calgary and Markstrom.

Which basically sums up this series: Dallas has the same potential to pull off an upset run just like they did in 2020. Even still, the Flames haven’t looked this good in a very long time and enter this series as the clear favorite.

Players to Watch

Matthew TkachukTkachuk has three goals and five points in 15 career playoff games, but the Flames will be hoping for far more from him this year. There’s a good chance he’ll deliver too after the superb campaign he just had. For what it’s worth, he’s also set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already got a ton of leverage after scoring 42 goals and 104 points in 82 contests, but he could make it for the Flames to say no if he ends up being a hero of Calgary’s playoff run.

Jason RobertsonRobertson is one of the league’s rising stars. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting last season and developed further as a sophomore with 41 goals and 79 points in 74 contests. Now he’s entering his first playoff run and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Robertson has a bright future ahead of him, but the 22-year-old might need some time to adjust to playoff hockey.

Joe PavelskiOf course Robertson could always look to Pavelski for guidance. Pavelski has 61 goals and 119 points in 161 career postseason contests. He’s also tied for sixth place on the all-time list for the most playoff games without a Stanley Cup, per NHL PR. You know that the 37-year-old forward will be doing everything in his power to end that drought.

Andrew MangiapaneMangiapane scored an impressive 35 goals this season, but his goals came in bunches. From March 5-April 9 for example, he had just one goal in 19 contests. He also had a stretch from Nov. 23-Jan. 24 where he had three goals in 18 games. Calgary will be hoping he gets hot at the right time.

Additional Series Notes

Sean Monahan isn’t expected to participate in the playoffs after undergoing hip surgery. A few years ago that would have been a big blow to the Flames, but unfortunately Monahan has struggled over the past two seasons. Hopefully he can recover from his hip issues and bounce back in 2022-23. Other than that, the Flames are healthy going into this series.

Dallas is of course missing goaltenders Braden Holtby (lower body) and Ben Bishop (knee), but that’s unfortunately nothing new and it’s not expected to change. John Klingberg has been dealing with a lower-body injury, but he should be good for the start of the playoffs.

This series will see Dallas’ Rick Bowness face off against Calgary’s Darryl Sutter behind the bench. Both coaches have plenty of NHL experience, but it’s hard not to give the edge to Sutter here. Sutter reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Flames in 2004 and then led the Kings to championships in 2012 and 2014. Sutter ranks is tied for eighth on the all-time list for playoff wins with 89. If Calgary wins this series, then Sutter will move ahead of Glen Sather and Mike Babcock to take sole possession of seventh place on that list.

When it comes to these franchises, there’s not much playoff history against them. Amusingly, they did meet up against each other in 1981 when the Stars were still the Minnesota North Stars and the Flames had only recently moved from Atlanta to Calgary. More recently, the Stars did defeat the Flames in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. That was of course the year that the Stars went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before finally falling to Tampa Bay.

The Dallas Stars had some problems with staying power this season. They edged out their opponents in goals 66-59 in the first period, but were outscored 83-88 in the second frame and 74-93 in the third. As a result, Dallas was 26-4-2 in games where they led after 40 minutes, which might sound great, but in terms of winning percentage that’s actually one of the worst records in the league for that category. Calgary outscored its opponents 104-72 in the third frame of their games, so we might see some come from behind wins out of the Flames.

(P2) EDMONTON OILERS VERSUS (P3) LOS ANGELES KINGS

A common narrative is that the Edmonton Oilers have been wasting prime seasons of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s career. The duo has been together since 2015-16 and in that time, Edmonton has won exactly one playoff series and that was back in 2017. McDavid has 11 goals and 22 points in 21 career playoff games while Draisaitl has 11 goals and 27 points over those same contests, so the issue hasn’t been that they wilt under pressure. The problem has been the teams built around them. So is this year any different?

In some respects, it is. The decision to sign Evander Kane was controversial given his baggage, but it’s proven to be successful. He’s been the extra scoring threat the Oilers were hungry for, providing the team with 22 goals and 39 points in 43 contests. The offseason signing of Zach Hyman has also worked out thus far. Hyman has contributed 27 goals and 54 points in 76 contests. Combined with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi and an argument could be made that the Oilers have about as much offensive depth as they’ve ever had during the McDavid/Draisaitl era.

The old concerns about the Oilers’ defense and goaltending though haven’t gone away. Darnell Nurse has been the cornerstone of the Oilers defense for years and he had another strong season. He has been dealing with a lower-body injury and that makes his status for Game 1 in question. They need him because the blueline doesn’t have any other options that you’d want to lean on for 24-plus minutes a game. Evan Bouchard has done a fine job of stepping into a top-four role this season, but it’s a bit much to ask him to headline the defense in the playoffs. Duncan Keith was at one time that guy, but he’s 38-years-old now and while he continues to be serviceable, he’s not great. Cody Ceci has exceeded expectations in some regards, but he also has ugly Corsi/Fenwick numbers when you compare how the Oilers have done with him on the ice versus when he’s on the bench. The Oilers are a far better puck possession team when Ceci isn’t playing and while you could certainly make a strong case that those numbers are skewed by the fact that Ceci is used heavily in defensive situations, he’s still doesn’t provide the all-around talent of Nurse. After that is Tyson Barrie, who is great offensively, but leaves something to be desired defensively, and Brett Kulak, who the Oilers acquired from Montreal and fits in nicely in a third pairing role.

So they’d be in trouble without Nurse, but even with him, their defense isn’t great. It’s not the weakness it’s been in the past, but it also not at the same level of championship teams and behind them, the Oilers have a big question mark. Mike Smith has been such a mixed bag this season when healthy. He has been red hot lately and if maybe that will carry into the playoffs. Certainly if it does then the Oilers will do far better, but if he plays to his average this season then goaltending will be the Oilers’ weakness, especially given that Mikko Koskinen isn’t a desirable alternative in net.

So the Oilers clearly have their flaws. In spite of McDavid and Draisaitl, this team doesn’t stack up favorably against the NHL’s main championship contenders. But they’re not facing one of them in the first round, they’re facing the Los Angeles Kings and that’s a team filled with question marks of its own.

First off, while the Oilers might not have Nurse, Los Angeles definitely will be missing Drew Doughty, who underwent wrist surgery. That removes the Kings’ best defenseman from the equation and without Doughty, the Kings will be icing a promising, but still developing and largely unproven defense that includes Michael Anderson, Jordan Spence, and Sean Durzi. They do have Matt Roy and Alexander Edler in there as well, but neither of them has played like an ideal top-two defenseman this season. I said above that the Oilers’ defense wasn’t great, but it’s still better than what the Kings have to offer when they’re missing Doughty.

The Kings are at a disadvantage offensively too. It’s not shocking to say that the Kings don’t have an equivalent to McDavid or Draisaitl, but honestly, the gap between the Oilers’ top forwards and the Kings is massive. Anze Kopitar has had a great career and he’s still productive, but at the age of 34, he had 19 goals and 67 points in 81 games. That was good enough to lead the Kings in scoring, but it’s just over half of McDavid’s point total. Beyond Kopitar, the Kings have Adrian Kempe, Phillip Danault, and Viktor Arvidsson who are each solid forwards, but not stars in their own right.

Then there’s Dustin Brown, who announced that he will retire after the 2022 playoffs. Brown had a relatively quiet season with nine goals and 28 points in 64 games, but it will be interesting to see what he does in his last playoff run. He was of course a huge part of the Kings’ 2012 championship and he was again a significant contributor in their 2014 Cup run, so he shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when he knows he’s playing in his final games. His decision to make his intentions known ahead of time should also provide the Kings with a bit of extra motivation to give Brown one last hurrah.

Still, the Kings don’t measure up great against the Oilers offensively or in terms of their blueline. About the only place where Los Angeles might have the edge is in goal. Jonathan Quick has been solid this season with a 23-13-9 record, 2.59 GAA, and .910 save percentage in 46 games. Plus he has a wealth of playoff success to fall back on and he’s sure to be hungry for the opportunity after being held out of the postseason since 2018. If the Kings are to pull off an upset, it will likely be because Quick stands on his head.

It would be an upset though. I don’t like the Oilers’ chances of winning a championship, but they should be capable of getting past the Los Angeles Kings if they play up to their potential.

Players to Watch

Zach HymanThe Edmonton Oilers brought in Hyman because he’s a hard working, strong forward who pairs well with high-skilled forwards like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. His first year with the team went exactly as the Oilers hoped with Hyman providing 27 goals and 54 points in 76 contests. However, if there’s been a concern when it comes to Hyman, it’s his lack of playoff success. Hyman has five goals and 13 points in 32 career postseason games. During the 2021 playoffs, he had a goal and no assists in seven games with the Maple Leafs. Are those underwhelming numbers that just an anomaly that will be corrected this year? We’ll see.

Mike SmithTaken as a whole, this was a disappointing season for Smith, but from April 3 onward, he’s posted an 8-0-0 record, 1.25 GAA, and .963 save percentage in eight starts. If he can carry that momentum into the playoffs then the Oilers will be a very difficult team to play against. That’s a big if though and at the age of 40, Edmonton certainly gambled when they decided to put their faith in him. We’ll see if that gamble is one that pays off.

Dustin BrownNaturally Brown will get a lot of attention in this series. His legacy with the Kings is already secure, but one last strong playoff showing would be a nice way to close out his career. Brown hasn’t consistently been a force in the playoffs, but he did score eight goals and 20 points in 20 games during the Kings’ 2012 Cup-winning run and another six goals and 14 points in 26 playoff contests during Los Angeles’ second championship in 2014.

Adrian KempeKempe is part of the younger guard in Los Angeles. He wasn’t a major offensive contributor in his early years, but the 25-year-old forward set career-highs in 2021-22 with 35 goals and 54 points in 78 contests. He only has four games worth of NHL experience and that was back in 2018, so for players like Kempe, this run will at very least be a valuable learning experience for him.

Additional Series Notes

As previously mentioned, the big question mark for Edmonton on the injury front is Darnell Nurse (lower body). Beyond him, the Oilers have Oscar Klefbom on the long-term injured reserve list and he’s unfortunately not expected to be an option during the playoffs.

The Kings won’t have their star defenseman Drew Doughty and they’re also missing Sean Walker, who hasn’t played since Oct. 25.

Edmonton has been led by Jay Woodcroft, who replaced Dave Tippett as a midseason replacement. Woodcroft has done a fantastic job with the Oilers so far, leading them to a 26-9-3 record over his tenure with the squad. This is his first run as a bench boss in the NHL, but he was an assistant NHL coach from 2008-09 through 2017-18 and after that he spent four seasons as the head coach of the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors, winning a championship with them in 2021, so he’s more than earned this opportunity.

Todd McLellan is behind the bench with the Los Angeles Kings. He’s pretty familiar with the Oilers, having served as their head coach from 2015-16 through 2018-19. Perhaps that will help the Kings a bit given that McLellan can provide them with some firsthand insight into McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Nurse in particular. McLellan also has a career 528-372-114 regular season record over his coaching career. His best playoff runs came with the Sharks, leading them to the Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011.

When it comes to playoff matchups between the Kings and Oilers specifically, there’s not much history there. Los Angeles and Edmonton did have something of a rivalry from 1981-91 with the two teams meeting each other in the postseason on seven occasions over that span. Plus of course there’s the history of the Wayne Gretzky trade, which took place over that span.

From 1991 until now though, the two squads hadn’t met each other in the postseason.

It goes without saying that every team wants to score first, but for the Los Angeles Kings that will be of particular importance. The Edmonton Oilers rarely give up a lead once they have it. They were 28-1-0 in games where they led through 20 minutes. That’s the best record of any NHL team in that scenario. Edmonton also tied for the fifth best winning percentage in the NHL in games where they led after two periods with a 35-2-1 record.