The Battle of Alberta will be reignited this postseason. It has been dormant since the 1991 playoffs, in which the Edmonton Oilers won in seven games. As an Oilers fan, I am excited, stressed, and terrified at what this series will bring.
For the first time since 2016-17, the Oilers are heading to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their opponent, the Calgary Flames, are also making their first second-round appearance since 2014-15. So it is a battle of two teams who have struggled to make any sort of impact in the playoffs in recent years.
The first round was a challenge for both of these teams as the Oilers and Flames took seven games to close out their respective series. For the Oilers, they were nearly bested by the consistency and work ethic of the Los Angeles Kings. And for the Flames, the Stars’ ability to have Jake Oettinger in net was a crucial factor in shutting down Calgary’s high-flying offence.
Flames vs. Oilers Matchup Preview
Sometimes when previewing a playoff series, we like to look at the season series to get a gauge on what to expect. That won’t be of much use here. The teams shared a 2-2 record and goals scored were 17-16 in favour of the Flames. No one has an edge from this.
Edmonton has the high-end talent advantage on their roster, but they’re missing some of that with a key injury to Leon Draisaitl that will impact his performance moving forward. The Flames’ forward depth is a bit stronger than the Oilers’, but the difference in production over the regular season between the teams’ depth is negligible.
The defence is mostly a wash as well. Darnell Nurse may be the best defender in the series but the rest of the lineups are fairly equal. The Flames have a major advantage on defence in terms of physicality, as Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov are much more physical than almost all of the Oilers’ defenders.
The Flames’ advantage comes in the net as Vezina Trophy candidate Jacob Markstrom is far better than Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen. To gain an edge in the series, the Flames will have to leverage this as it is their biggest advantage over the Oilers.
A Look at the Series for the Edmonton Oilers
The key storyline to follow for the Oilers will be the health of Draisaitl. In-Game Six of the first round, Kings defender Michael Anderson took him down awkwardly and the fall resulted in what is believed to be a high ankle sprain for the Oilers centre.
Clearly in discomfort the entire game, Draisaitl played almost 20 minutes in Game Seven. But the injury is extremely concerning as ankle sprains take a long time to heal properly, and even then it can take a while afterward to return to 100%. This means that he is not likely to be anywhere near full health for this series, putting the Oilers’ depth to the test.
Smith was an absolute workhorse for the team against the Kings. Despite costing them Game One with a terrible giveaway, he rebounded with two shutouts in the next six games. Even though he gave up a fair amount of goals that should not have gone in, he ended up with a .938 SV% and 2.29 GAA in the first round. An overall solid stat line.
Looking ahead to this series against the Flames, I would expect Koskinen to get a game in early on. Smith dealt with injuries frequently through the regular season so for the sake of his longevity in the playoffs, a game off and a four or five-day break might be beneficial. It would also be a good idea to keep the backup in game shape, just in case.
With it being a Battle of Alberta, the Oilers’ grit will need to continue. Edmonton was extremely physical against the Kings, so players like Nurse, Zack Kassian, and Josh Archibald will be looked at to keep bringing that style of play to help swing momentum in their favour.
We’ve seen in the past couple of seasons that these matchups can get heated pretty quickly. The Oilers need to be careful to not play into the mind games that can lead them to take their frustrations out on the ice leading to bad penalties.
A Look at the Series for the Calgary Flames
The Flames just got through a difficult series against the Stars, one that pushed them to the brink of elimination. Despite outshooting the Stars by a wide margin (287-195), the score over the seven-game series was 15-14. The Flames are going to be well prepared to pepper the Oilers with shots and pressure throughout this upcoming series. This playstyle bodes well for Calgary as even the Kings found it easy at times to dominate play against the Oilers. With the strength of the Flames’ roster compared to Los Angeles, it seems logical that the Flames will be in control of the pace of play.
A majority of the past offseason’s acquisitions for Calgary focused on physicality. Zadorov, Gudbranson, and Blake Coleman are the primary additions and all three are players not afraid to throw their weight around. With the amount of energy that will be flowing in this series, the physical side of the game will be incredibly important. Getting these three, along with preexisting players like Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, and of course Matthew Tkachuk, hitting early and often, they might be able to wear down the Oilers and slow them down a bit.
Markstrom is a rare commodity in the net. He is a gamechanger, he can turn the tides of the game and create momentum for his team with huge and timely saves. He will need to be on his A-game against Edmonton to help shut down their powerful offence and powerplay, including one Connor McDavid who had 14 points in the first round.
Calgary Flames vs Edmonton Oilers Prediction
With both teams coming off of a series that tried and tested them, there will be copious amounts of energy and momentum flowing through the players’ veins. Edmonton may have figured out some of their issues with slow starts and sitting back too much, but with how easily the Flames can take over and control the pace of a game, the series leans in their favour.
The Calgary Flames should win this series in six games. But, when we think about it, don’t the fans truly win with a matchup like this?
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