2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals Prospectus: Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals Prospectus: Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks
M.D. Wright

Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (P1)
Now this will be a battle of wills. The Ducks have been here many a time over the past decade. Granted, they have not won the Cup since 2007 with stacked teams. Their record of losing in Game 7s under former coach Bruce Boudreau is well-noted. It follows the team, whether they want to acknowledge it or not. Specifically, Ryan Getzlaf (who has been on a ridiculous tear since the All-Star Break), and Corey Perry (who came on late in the season, after a brutal, almost snakebitten first four months of the season scoring-wise). They are the two lone holdovers from that 2007 team that hoisted the Stanley Cup over the Ottawa Senators. Most of the rest of the team is young (and adequately rested), especially on the back end. Will they get Cam Fowler back at some point in this series? We’ll see. Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are critical, but the Ducks have also gotten contributions from Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. Kevin Bieksa continues to be a stalwart, although in a reduced role, as he isn’t the skater or overall defender he once was.

John Gibson is in goal. He was pulled once during the Calgary series, but Jonathan Bernier came in, held the fort, and the Ducks scored on three straight deflected goals to eventually win. It was the nail in the coffin for the Flames, even though there was still one game yet to play, as it turned out. That was a killer loss. It may have galvanized the Ducks in the process. Gibson came back and was stellar in the close-out game. Along with Getzlaf, Perry (who was moved down to the 3rd line at times), the Ducks rely heavily on the all-around skill set of Ryan Kesler. Kesler, who is a Selke Trophy level centre, wins tons of draws and often gets into the head of whoever he’s on ice against. Rickard Rakell had a breakout season, and continued his good play in the first round.

The big deal for the Ducks was the acquisition of Patrick Eaves. He had been having a banner season in Dallas before the trade, and only elevated his game further upon arrival in Anaheim, and on into the playoffs. Wingers such as ironman Andrew Cogliano, Jakob Silfverberg and Nick Ritchie have made important plays for the Ducks which set up scoring opportunities in seemingly all four games against Calgary. The fourth line, centered by Antoine Vermette — a faceoff maven — has dictated pace and possession with hard hitting from Chris Wagner and forechecking by Logan Shaw. The third line (with Perry) centered by Nate Thompson and flanked on the left wing by Rakell is the one that could give Edmonton problems.

Speaking of third lines, Edmonton features Mark Letestu — who has been good on the power play, among other things — with wingers like the speedy Drake Caggiula and the hard-hitting, fast-skating Zack Kassian, who absolutely dominated two games against Calgary. The fourth line with Benoit Pouliot, David Desharnais and Anton Slepyshev have been noticeable in their roles. Some make Edmonton out to be all about sure-fire Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, but this is not so. To go along with the aforementioned bottom six, the second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was all over the place against San Jose, they have him lined up with experienced Milan Lucic, and Jordan Eberle (who will need to contribute more, but was okay against San Jose). The McDavid line of Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl is electric and flat out astonishing to watch. Maroon had a career season on McDavid’s line. McDavid himself had 100 points in the regular season (30 goals, 70 assists; 2 goals and 2 assists in 6 games against San Jose). Draisaitl was 8th in the NHL in scoring at nearly a point per game with 29 goals and 48 assists for 77 points while playing in all 82 games. He had a goal and two assists in the San Jose series, but make no mistake, each of those numbers could have been doubled (and the goals could have been tripled or quadrupled; that is how many golden chances he had on breakaways and point-blank chances in front). Getzlaf is leagues stronger than McDavid, but no one on Anaheim can skate with McDavid, and arguably only Cogliano can skate with Draisaitl, which may not be a match up except on Edmonton power plays.

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These are two fantastic goalies. Along with Gibson, the Oilers counter with should-have-been Vezina finalist and former New York Ranger season-saver Cam Talbot. Both had one forgettable game apiece in their first rounds. Both teams are capable of having a game or two which puts the opposing goalie in peril. Who will dictate?

Edmonton must stay out of the penalty box. They committed what seemed like 50 penalties against San Jose. It might have actually been. In their 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the Sharks, Edmonton surrendered four power play goals. This cannot happen again. The Ducks’ PP is probably even more lethal, especially with all six of the forwards on the two units being regular contributors on the score sheet in that scenario. The PKs of each team are about a wash, and the goalies probably are as well. Who can make a play? Edmonton’s defence is alright with Kris Russell and Adam Larsson, but young and mistake-prone players such as Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning have gotten the Oilers in trouble quite a few times thus far in the playoffs. It bears watching. The Ducks have a decided advantage on the back end, particularly if Vatanen and Fowler are able to play.

Do you rely heavily on the experience (but lack of ability to get over the hump since 2007) of the Ducks? Or the speed and youthful exuberance of the Oilers? Edmonton just seems destined for the Stanley Cup Finals. We don’t disagree.



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