Oilers vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca

For the second time in three seasons, the Edmonton Oilers have earned a chance to win the Western Conference crown, with just four wins separating them from a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

They’ve been here before. Two years ago, Connor McDavid’s club stumbled off a cliff just as it reached this peak. After a close seven-game battle with the Los Angeles Kings and a five-game duel with the rival Calgary Flames, a painfully brief late-season sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche snuffed out Edmonton’s Cup dreams just as they began to feel real.

Last year, the pain came even faster. The Oilers only made it to the second round, and then came that familiar feeling: the club was defeated again by the eventual champions, this time the Vegas Golden Knights.

Now, Edmonton once again reaches the precipice of greatness, with another giant before them. And in a bit of hockey god poetry, the kind of all-star lineup that seems reserved for all-time greats, McDavid’s team must now try to beat a Dallas Stars team so dominant that they got here by trampling the former champions. who ended the Oilers’ last two seasons.

On the other side of the scale, however, the confrontation is no less daunting.

If the Stars make it past the Western Conference finals and into that coveted final round, they will do so after having navigated as difficult a postseason path as one could imagine: a seven-game grind to dethroning the reigning champions. champions; a subsequent six-game bout against in-form Nathan MacKinnon and his high-flying Avalanche; and now a date with McDavid, one of the greatest pure offensive forces the game has ever seen, surrounded by the best supporting cast it has ever had.

It’s hard for any of the fans to digest. But it’s a necessary step for both teams to reach what lies beyond: the chance to claim the crown jewel of a new era: the first Stanley Cup lifted by the Stars in 25 years, or the first lifted by the Oilers. in more than three. decades.

Head-to-head record in the regular season:

Greasers: 1-2-0
Stars: 2-0-1

Oilers’ unsung hero: Evan Bouchard

He’s far from an under-the-radar contributor, but with much of the Oilers-related focus often directed at McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, the rest of the forward corps or who’s manning the cage, it’s worth stopping to acknowledge how essential it is. Defender Evan Bouchard has helped lead his club to the third round. Through 12 games, the 24-year-old racked up five goals and 20 points for Edmonton, best among all defensemen in these 2024 playoffs and third among all skaters overall. But beyond the size of that sum, it’s the way he has contributed that has made him so valuable to everything the Oilers do. Bouchard has been particularly instrumental in these playoffs with a team leading three wins so far. .

However, the biggest role Bouchard played was ensuring the Oilers’ power play remains lethal as the stakes continue to rise. That was the story against Vancouver until the end, the Oilers amassing a six-goal man advantage over the Canucks in seven games, the last one ending as the winner in Game 7. And Bouchard was at the center of it all every step of the way. , logging more power play time than anyone else on the team, continuing to make his presence known as one of the club’s leading power play scorers and logging the top helper in the series-ending decider . Even beyond the sequences that end with Bouchard’s name on the scoresheet, it’s simply the threat of what he can do that makes him vital to Edmonton’s power play, his world-class shot keeping defenses honest and deflecting just enough attention from the top. The twin MVP talents of the unit.

The Oilers won’t have many areas where they have an advantage over Dallas, but special teams is one, and Bouchard enters the series as the highest-scoring defender on either side.

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The unsung hero of the stars: Wyatt Johnston

Again, for anyone who has been following these playoffs, Wyatt Johnston is not a hidden gem. Still, it’s easy to forget how young and new Johnston is at this level, given how central he has been to the Stars’ success. Through 13 games this postseason, it’s not two-time 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson pacing the club in the scoring department, nor international tournament mainstays Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene or Joe Pavelski . It’s Johnston, 21, who has seven touchdowns so far and ranks third on the team in overall scoring with 11 total points.

However, like Bouchard, it is about more than just the total. The 23rd selection of 2021, who is only in his second season in the Major Leagues, has put them in every way in these playoffs: four of those goals have come with the same force, two with a human advantage, one in lack of staff, one. In extra time, two ended up winning the game. If we remove the noise from special teams, Johnston has actually been Dallas’ most effective scorer in these playoffs, the young center led the club with an even seven points and also paced them in shooting.

Seeing the ice in every situation, the Stars sophomore has seemingly earned the full trust of head coach Peter DeBoer heading into the conference finals: Through three rounds, Johnston is the lone forward of Dallas who averages more than 20 minutes on ice per night, the young Phenom moved to the front of the pack, ahead of Dallas’ team of decorated veterans.

That offensive depth is sure to be one of the Stars’ key advantages over Edmonton in Round 3, and their high-flying youngsters, led by Johnston, are a critical part of that equation.

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5v5 Playoff Numbers Using the Natural Stats Trick

The Oilers will win if…Zach Hyman can keep scoring

If the Oilers hope to overcome Dallas and reach their first Stanley Cup Final in nearly two decades, they need their prolific offense to live up to its potential in the conference finals, and that means Zach Hyman scoring again with regularity.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this postseason, when Edmonton seemed unstoppable and started with a 7-4 rout of the Kings. Leading the charge that night was Hyman, who opened his playoff account with a hat trick and four total points. The club defeated the Kings in five games, looking like a genuine contender, and Hyman looked like a crucial cog in the machine, scoring seven times during the series. More importantly, the hard-working winger got on the board every night, scoring in all but one of those five games. In the second round, it was more difficult for the 50-goal talent. He finished the seven-game battle with four goals, including the opening tally in Game 7, but not before the Canucks held him scoreless for four straight games through the middle of this series.

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The opponent awaiting Edmonton in Round 3 requires a different level of offensive competition. The Stars have allowed the fewest goals per game of any club remaining in these playoffs, and among the fewest of any club that has participated. Playing against the likes of David Rittich and Arturs Silovs to this point, Edmonton now has to figure out Jake Oettinger, who has been one of the stingiest netminders in the postseason and is no stranger to upping his game this time of year. .

Edmonton has the firepower to break through, but after watching Dallas calm down the star-studded Golden Knights and Avalanche (the latter enters the playoffs with the league’s most prolific regular-season offense), simply trusting McDavid to do magic every night won’t do it. be enough. An Oilers win comes only with all of their key contributors making waves again, Hyman leading among them.

The stars will win if… Jake Oettinger can keep rolling

On the other side of that coin, Dallas needs Oettinger to continue the form he’s shown so far if they want to continue advancing to the Cup final.

Fresh off a tough regular season in which the 25-year-old posted the worst numbers of his four-year NHL career, Oettinger came to life in the postseason, a crucial development for the Stars after a tumultuous few years for their starter. . . Two years ago, it was in this environment that the young ‘tender’ made a name for himself, showing up in a seven-game series against Calgary in which he posted a dominant .954 save percentage and was one of the playoff goalies of all the times. performances in the last of those tournaments. But last year, everything went wrong for him: As the Stars made their way to the Western Conference finals, Oettinger finished the postseason having allowed the most goals of any netminder in the dance, allowing a wild 55 in 19 games. . .

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This year, so far, he has been the stabilizing presence that Dallas expects and needs him to be. Of all goaltenders who have appeared in more than a handful of games in these playoffs, Oettinger’s .918 save percentage ranks third best. Of those still playing, he ranks second, behind only Igor Shesterkin of New York. And their efforts have been much needed given the offensive juggernauts Dallas has had to defeat to get here: a Las Vegas team led by Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault, an Avalanche team led by Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and the 140 -The MacKinnon punctual phenomenon.

Now, another test: an Oilers offense led by two of the most dynamic offensive talents in the game: McDavid and Draisaitl, who have been this postseason’s most prolific scorers so far, even though they still appear to have yet to find their groove. Upper level. A Stars victory will only come if Oettinger can ensure they don’t find it in the third round.