Five things to know about the NHL's Western Conference final

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The NHL's much-anticipated west final between the Oilers and Avalanche will get started Tuesday night in Denver with plenty of star power and intrigue on both sides.

Here are five things to know as we head into Game 1 of the Western Conference final:

GENERATIONAL MATCHUP

This year's Western Conference final is being hailed as a matchup between two of the game's brightest stars in Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

And rightfully so.

Over their careers, the two superstars have combined for 10 all-star appearances and 11 individual awards.

Both former first-overall draft picks — with MacKinnon going to Colorado in 2013 and McDavid to Edmonton in 2015 — they're each known for their game-breaking speed and skill as centremen of two of hockey's deadliest lines.

SECONDARY STUDS ON BOTH SIDES

While McDavid and MacKinnon are the headline-grabbers, they aren't the only stars that the Oilers and Avalanche boast.

Alongside McDavid is another fellow Hart Memorial Trophy winner in Leon Draisaitl, who has matched McDavid for the league lead in scoring this post-season with an astounding 26 in just 12 games.

As well, Evander Kane leads the playoffs with 12 goals, while Edmonton's second line has also been productive, with Zach Hyman producing 12 points and centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallying 11.

On the Avalanche side, while their numbers haven't been nearly as gaudy — MacKinnon has 13 points in 10 games — they're still a team with plenty of firepower up and down the lineup.

The best example of this would be in 23-year-old Norris trophy finalist Cale Makar, who has 13 points in the playoffs and is tied with MacKinnon for the team lead. The swift-skating defenceman finished with 86 points in the regular season.

Colorado's second line is powered by winger Mikko Rantanen, who led the Avs with 92 points the season, and centre Nazem Kadri, whose 87 points were just one back of MacKinnon's 88.

WILL OFFENCE REALLY DOMINATE SERIES AS EXPECTED?

The Oilers have averaged 4.33 goals per game in the playoffs while the Avalanche have averaged 4.30.

However, as dominant as both squads' offences have been, their defence, save for a couple outlier games, hasn't been lacking either/

Edmonton is allowing 3.08 goals per game this post-season while the Avs have been even better, conceding 2.70 goals per contest.

OILERS' PHYSICALITY COULD BE A CURSE

Edmonton's 156 penalty minutes are the most among active playoff teams.

The PIM numbers were mainly buoyed by their rough-and-tumble Battle of Alberta series with the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers could afford to take more penalties last round because they were up against an anemic Flames power play that converted on just 12.2 per cent of their opportunities.

Edmonton is more likely to get burned against the potent Avalanche attack.

Colorado leads the playoffs with a 34.5 power-play percentage.

MIKE SMITH'S MOMENT

As the age of 40, Edmonton netminder Mike Smith is playing some of the best hockey of his 16-year career.

In 12 games, Smith has put up a .927 save percentage and has outdueled former Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick and Vezina finalist Jacob Markstrom.

This is the third conference final that Smith has reached in his career. His last one came in 2012, when his Phoenix Coyotes fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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