Oilers' offence, Knights' balance headline second-round playoff clash
The first ever playoff confrontation between the Oilers and Golden Knights pits Edmonton's explosive offence against one of the best two-way teams in the NHL.
Vegas (51-22-9) got it done at both ends of the ice to rank first in the Western Conference, two points up on Edmonton (50-23-9).
The Knights were among the league's top-five plus-minus teams in the regular season and topped the first round of the playoffs at plus-seven.
"They won the division, so we know what we're up against," Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm said. "It's a high-powered offence in my mind. They have some really good D that can move the puck as well, so they're a pretty complete team."
Vegas gets home-ice advantage to kick off the second-round series Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. Game 2 is Saturday there before the series flips to Edmonton.
The best-of-seven, conference semifinal also marks the first playoff meeting of the Oilers' Connor McDavid and the Knights' Jack Eichel since they were selected first and second respectively in the 2015 entry draft.
The Oilers took the regular-season series 3-0-1 with three of the four games decided by one goal.
"A different animal, regular season (and) playoffs, so I don't think that translates very well." McDavid said. "That core has been together for a long time. They do a lot of really good things."
Knights' forward Mark Stone was out of the lineup for the last three regular-season games against the Oilers.
The 30-year-old from Winnipeg missed a total of 39 because of back surgery. That the Knights remained well above .500 without one of their best two-way forwards reflects their depth.
Stone returned for the post-season. He produced a pair of three-point nights during a first-round elimination of his hometown Jets in five games.
Edmonton needed six to oust the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers remained in California to rest and skate before leaving the beach for the desert.
"Any time you can limit your time on the plane, it's obviously a good thing," McDavid told reporters in L.A. "They'll be rested too. They've been off for a little bit."
A key to this series is Edmonton's power play firing at 56 per cent in the playoffs, compared to a middling Knights' penalty kill operating at 58 per cent.
The reunification of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line alongside Evander Kane early in the opening round created a chain reaction of more even-strength production and secondary scoring.
Draisaitl was among the NHL's top performers of the first round at 1.83 points per game.
McDavid, the league's leading scorer this season, contributed a goal and six assists in three straight victories to close out the L.A. series.
"If you're going to beat the Oilers, you've got to find a way to slow them down at some point," Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy said in Las Vegas.
"Limit those chances. Score yourself because you're not going to never keep those guys right off the scoresheet. During our Winnipeg series, I felt we got better and better defensively as the series went on."
Vegas goaltending was a carousel in 2022-23 with five different game starters: Logan Thompson (36 games), Adin Hill (25), Jonathan Quick (9), Laurent Brossoit (10) and Jiri Patera (2).
Brossoit posted a .915 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average against the Jets.
He's familiar with Alberta's capital city as he broke into the NHL as the Oilers' backup after spending his Western Hockey League career as an Edmonton Oil King.
His Oilers counterpart Stuart Skinner rode the roller-coaster in the first playoff series of his career — brilliant at times and shaky at others — but he was helped out by an offence that can produce five-plus goals a game.
The 24-year-old is also coming off a 40-save Game 6 outing in L.A.
Edmonton and the Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the Florida Panthers in the second round are the two Canadian NHL clubs left in Stanley Cup contention in 2023.
It's been 30 years since the Montreal Canadiens lifted the trophy in 1993.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Regular-season series: Edmonton 3-0-1.
Goals for per game: Edmonton, 3.96 (1st); Vegas, 3.26 (14th).
Goals against per game: Edmonton, 3.12 (17th): Vegas, 2.74 (11th).
Top points men regular season: Edmonton, Connor McDavid, 153; Vegas, Jack Eichel, 66.
Starting goaltender: Edmonton, Stuart Skinner, 29-14-5, 2.75 GAA, .914 save percentage; Vegas, Laurent Brossoit, 7-0-3, 2.17, .927.
Power play percentage: Edmonton, 32.4 (1st); Vegas, 20.3 (18th).
Penalty kill percentage: Edmonton, 77 (20th); Vegas 77.4 (19th).
The Big Stat: Of the eight remaining teams in the NHL playoffs, the Golden Knights boast the highest concentration of players with Stanley Cup final experience (12), compared to the Oilers (3).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: CORRECTS Edmonton's regular-season record against Vegas in paras 7 and 28 from 4-0 to 3-0-1