PHT previews each Second Round playoff series with five questions. In this post, explore the Battle Of Alberta between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
CALGARY FLAMES VS. EDMONTON OILERS
Game 1 – May 18: Oilers at Flames, 9:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN)
Game 2 – May 20: Oilers at Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN)
Game 3 – May 22: Flames at Oilers, 8 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN2)
Game 4 – May 24: Flames at Oilers, 9:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN)
*Game 5 – May 26: Oilers at Flames, TBD
*Game 6 – May 28: Flames at Oilers, TBD
*Game 7 – May 30: Oilers at Flames, TBD
* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined
1. How will the Flames slow down Connor McDavid?
If you look at these two rosters there is a very strong argument to be made that the Flames are the better team on paper. Deeper, better defense, better goalie. They should be the favorites. Being the favorites and having a better roster, though, does not mean an automatic win. The biggest thing that could turn this series upside down? Connor McDavid putting the Oilers on his back and carrying them with a dominant performance. That is entirely possible, and if McDavid plays like he did in the First Round it is absolutely going to give the Oilers a fighting chance. The question is how do you stop him? Aside from winning another scoring title and putting up monster numbers again, McDavid simply looks like a man on a mission right now and seemingly unstoppable when he has the puck on his stick. This might be the best hockey he has ever played.
[NHL Power Rankings: Top playoff storylines for the Second Round]
2. Will the Oilers slow down Johnny Gaudreau?
The Oilers are not the only team with a dominant offensive player in this series. Gaudreau finished second to McDavid in this year’s scoring race and is coming off of his own strong performance in the First Round that was wrapped up with a Game 7 overtime goal to beat the Dallas Stars. As great as Gaudreau is this question might be better phrased by asking if the Oilers will slow down Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. That duo helped form one of the best top lines in the NHL this season. In more than 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 play, the Flames controlled more than 60 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals, while also outscoring opponents by a whopping 86-32 margin. That strong play carried over to the playoffs where they posted similar underlying numbers against Dallas and also owned a 5-3 goals advantage. This is the difference making line for the Flames.
3. Can Mike Smith match Jacob Markstrom in goal?
On paper this might seem like the biggest mismatch in the Flames’ favor. Markstrom was one of the best goalies in the league this season, is a Vezina Trophy Finalist, and looks like a significant upgrade over Edmonton’s net. Goaltending has been a huge question mark and issue for the Oilers the past two seasons. Despite that concern, Mike Smith caught fire during the stretch run of the regular season, played his best hockey of the year, and even recorded a pair of shutouts in the First Round. He is going to be facing a significantly better offense against Calgary, so he is going to need perhaps even a better effort to match Markstrom.
4. How healthy is Leon Draisaitl?
Edmonton’s second best player was injured late in the First Round series with Los Angeles and was even a game-time decision before Game 7. He ultimately played, but it is something to keep an eye on in this series. Especially since he was not at his best in that round to begin with. When he was he was away from McDavid the Oilers lost the territorial matchup with the Kings and were outscored by a 1-6 margin during 5-on-5 play, which is a pretty stunning 180 from what we typically see from Draisaitl’s line. He was still good on the power play and absolutely mesmerizing with McDavid, but his status is and play is going to be something to watch in this series.
5. Who will win?
Flames in 7.
This has the potential to be the best and most fun series of the Second Round, and maybe even the entire playoffs. I expect it to go seven games with McDavid and Gaudreau both having their moments, and the old school rivalry erupting on more than one occasion. In the end, though, the Flames have the better goalie, better defense, and a bit more depth. That gets them the win in seven games.