The Edmonton Oilers are the last Canadian team standing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and after getting through the rival Calgary Flames in a quick, but tough, five-game series, they now walk into Colorado to face an Avalanche team that has been maturing as a contender for a couple of seasons and seems to be blooming this spring.
So will this be the end of a nice run to write home about for Edmonton, or will they be able to topple a team many had picked to win it all a few weeks ago?
While Colorado was expected to be here all season long, Edmonton’s road has been a lot less secure and there was even a time when just qualifying for the playoffs wasn’t guaranteed. But they have been coming together as the season has gone along, with improved defensive play after the coaching switch to Jay Woodcroft, more stable goaltending from Mike Smith than what was happening in the crease over the first few months of the season, and the best all-around playoff performances we’ve yet seen from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
They could be peaking at just the right time. And Colorado is already there waiting for them.
There is plenty of star power atop both lineups that could lead to an explosive series of offence and will certainly entertain with an endless stream of awe-inspiring highlights. Here’s a look at the Western Conference Final.
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
What we’ve learned about the Oilers
Connor McDavid, good.
Leon Draisaitl, good.
The duo have been historic, really.
The top two scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs both suit up for the Oilers and have often shared a line in this run. But it’s not just that they’re leading the NHL in post-season scoring, it’s how far ahead of the competition they are. Both players average 2.17 points per game and have a 10-point lead on the pack behind.
McDavid gets most of the ink, and deservedly so as he’s personally taken over games on the regular, but Draisaitl has earned just as much attention for his contributions and where he should fit in the Conn Smythe discussion after two rounds, especially considering that it seems like he’s playing injured. The German’s Round 2 efforts were sublime, piling up 17 points in five games against the Flames (to McDavid’s 12) and recording at least three points in every game. Absolutely ridiculous performance.
But we didn’t really learn that McDavid and Draisaitl were elite players in the first two rounds, did we? Somehow, they’ve both elevated to yet another level. Is there a league above the NHL for them?
While those two are the driving forces at play behind Edmonton’s first trip to Round 3 since 2006, there have been other key performers. For example, Evander Kane, the risky mid-season UFA signing, has been a smashing success on the top unit and leads the playoffs with 12 goals in 12 games, including a couple of hat tricks already. If Edmonton advances, perhaps he’ll have a shot at the all-time record of 19 playoff goals in a season, held jointly by Reggie Leach and Jarri Kurri. Zach Hyman led the Oilers in goal scoring against the Flames with six and he’ll start the West Final on a five-game scoring streak. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ play at centre (six points against the Flames) has allowed the Oilers to load up that top line and not feel an offensive pinch below.
But the primary worry about these Oilers all season was the goaltending, and specifically if Mike Smith could be the guy to get them through, or at least to not scuttle the alien performances of the superstars up front. It’s been 11 years since Smith was outstanding in getting the Arizona Coyotes to the West Final and though he’s not willing the 2022 Oilers on in the same way, he has been good enough with a .927 playoff save percentage that is better than the netminder he’ll face in Round 3.
There certainly have been moments, though, including a puckhandling gaffe that cost the Oilers Game 1 of Round 1, and a goal against from the other end of the ice in Round 2 that allowed the Flames back into a Game 4 that Edmonton won anyway. Smith will continue to be the ultimate wild card.
What we’ve learned about the Avalanche
After being eliminated in the second round of the past three Stanley Cup Playoffs, the fourth time was the charm for the contending Avs to get over the hump and return to the conference final for the first time since they were a powerhouse led by Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in 2002. Now Sakic’s in the GM chair and the careful build up he’s overseen has brought Colorado all the way back to those days, with star power up and down the lineup.
The Oilers are used to having an advantage on teams at the top of their lineup with the McDavid/Draisaitl duo, but the Avs have something of an answer to them with Nathan MacKinnon, who’s somewhere in the mix of the top five players in the world today himself. A bull of a player, MacKinnon will go around or through your team for offence and will be by far the biggest handful Edmonton’s defencemen have had to manage so far.
Where Edmonton’s main threats are atop the depth chart among their forwards, the Avs can really sting you from anywhere. Nazem Kadri has carried over his career-best regular season performance into the playoffs with a point per game effort and he’s not really come close to stepping over any line into suspension territory yet. And Edmonton will not have an answer for Cale Makar, who has the same 1.30 points per game average MacKinnon does, but from the blue line. And don’t overlook his partner Devon Toews, who has a point in seven of Colorado’s 10 playoff games to date and may just be the second-best blueliner in this series.
Yes, the Avs seem to be levelling up to their full potential as one of the top contenders this season, taking no time at all getting through Nashville (sweep) and St. Louis (six games). The quickness with which they’ve arrived in the West Final could help them through the last couple of legs.
Interestingly, though, goaltending may be a situation to watch with the Avs. Colorado is the best team in these playoffs at limiting shots against (27 per game), scoring chances against (20.03 per 60) and high danger opportunities against (8.32 per 60), but Darcy Kuemper has underperformed the team’s expected goals against rate.
He hasn’t allowed a pile of actual goals, with a 2.44 GAA and only one game in which he allowed more than three, but that’s been helped by a relatively lighter workload than some of his counterparts around the league. Kuemper’s minus-2.18 goals saved above expected will be the lowest mark of any remaining netminder and if the Oilers’ superstars can do a better job of getting high-quality opportunities than either Nashville or St. Louis did (and who’s betting against McDavid and Draisaitl doing just that), this could possibly become an issue for Colorado.
Playoff 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick
PLAYOFF TEAM STATS
Oilers X-Factor: Mike Smith
Like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re going to get from Smith one play to the next. Edmonton’s hoping it’s more of a caramel filling performance in Round 3 than a maraschino cherry.
In seven of 11 playoff games so far Smith has allowed at least three goals, which normally could be a pressure point this time of year, but Edmonton’s explosive offence has given Smith much more of a safety net so far. But now it gets interesting. Where the Oilers have a league-best 4.33 goals per game, Colorado is right behind them with 4.30 goals per game. If there was one team that could match Edmonton goal for goal, this is it.
So what will we get from Smith now? Will the Avs just be too relentless and expose Edmonton’s expected weakness in the Final Four? Will Edmonton’s own offence still be able to cancel out whatever Colorado can throw at them? Or can Smith elevate and outperform Kuemper at the other end, which may be the most important X-Factor for Edmonton?
Avalanche X-Factor: Nathan MacKinnon
We expect a huge series from MacKinnon and a lot of attention will be paid to the matchup he’ll have against McDavid, who has carved up the competition through two rounds. MacKinnon has certainly taken over games all on his own — his late go-ahead goal in Game 5 against St. Louis was a superior individual effort that looked like it would carry them into Round 3 before Colorado let the win slip away in OT. But McDavid, with less of a supporting cast, has regularly taken his team upon his shoulders shift after shift as he’s put up playoff numbers not seen in Edmonton since they were winning Cups in the ’80s with Wayne Gretzky. Will MacKinnon feel the pressure to match whatever magic McDavid throws down in their own little head-to-head narrative?
We have no doubt MacKinnon is one of the few who could match McDavid and, in fact, Edmonton may not present as much of a defensive challenge to him as Nashville or St. Louis did. If MacKinnon matches, or outperforms, McDavid in this series, there won’t be many other places in the lineup where Edmonton will be able to find an advantage over Colorado.
Alex Newhook Becomes Third Newfoundlander To Win The Cup – VOCM
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Alex Newhook is a Stanley Cup Champion.
The Colorado Avalanche finally dethroned the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night, holding on for a 2 -1 victory and taking the series 4-2.
Newhook becomes the third Newfoundland player to win the Cup, following Daniel Cleary of Harbour Grace and Bonavista’s Michael Ryder.
Newhook had four points in 12 games this post-season and, at the age of 21, becomes the youngest player from this province to ever win the Cup.
Anticipation now builds toward this summer when it’s expected Newhook and the Cup will make the trip home.
— Shawn Newhook (@shawn_newhook) June 27, 2022
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 27, 2022
Andreescu's 3-year title drought extended at Wimbledon tune-up in Germany – CBC Sports
Caroline Garcia won her first tour title in three years after coming back from a set and a break down to beat 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday in the final of the Bad Homburg Open in Germany.
Andreescu was looking for her first title since beating Serena Williams in the 2019 final at Flushing Meadows before injuries forced her to miss the entire 2020 season.
“I’m very happy. It’s been a couple of rough years but, you know, I’m putting in the work and on to the next. I’m excited for Wimbledon,” said Andreescu, who became visibly emotional while thanking her team. “You guys stuck with me through the toughest moments and that’s all anyone could ever ask for.”
She has drawn American qualifier Emina Bektas in the first round of Wimbledon next week. Garcia has Yuriko Miyazaki of Britain for her opener.
WATCH | Andreescu falls to Garcia in Bad Homburg final:
Garcia took a medical timeout for what seemed to be a shoulder problem early in the second set. She then went 4-2 down before winning 10 of the next 14 games to seal the match ahead of the start of Wimbledon on Monday.
“It was a fight [for] every point from the first to the last one,” Garcia said.
Garcia is 8-3 in career finals but her last title was almost exactly three years ago in Nottingham in the build-up to the 2019 Wimbledon tournament.
WATCH | Canadian tennis star Andreescu answers questions from kids:
Kvitova captures Eastbourne title
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova tuned up for the Grand Slam tournament by overpowering Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-2 to win the Eastbourne title on Saturday in England.
The 14th-seeded Kvitova earned her first grass-court title in four years — and 29th trophy of her singles career overall – after breaking Ostapenko, the defending champion, early in both sets and feasting on the Latvian’s second serve.
Kvitova saved five break points in the fourth game of the second set to stay in control of the match at 3-1.
“Playing on the grass is very special for me every time,” the 32-year-old Czech player said in her on-court interview. “It’s the best preparation for Wimbledon, as well.”
Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, plays Tuesday at the All England Club in a first-round match against Jasmine Paolini of Italy.
She is now 5-1 in grass-court finals in her career. Her most recent title on grass had been Birmingham in 2018.
Injured Keys, Coric out of Wimbledon
Madison Keys, the 2017 U.S. Open runner-up, and Borna Coric withdrew from Wimbledon on Saturday because of injuries.
The tournament begins Monday.
Keys, an American who was seeded 19th at the All England Club, pulled out because of a hurt abdominal muscle.
She was replaced in the field by Coco Vandeweghe, twice a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon and twice a semifinalist at other Grand Slam tournaments, who lost in qualifying this week. Vandeweghe’s first-round opponent will be No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina.
“This isn’t what I was hoping to say a few days before @Wimbledon, but unfortunately I have to withdraw due to an abdominal injury,” world number 24 Keys tweeted.
“I’m so disappointed, but my health comes first and my body needs time to get back to 100%. Lots of love London fans. See you next year.”
Former world No. 7 Keys won her first title since 2019 at the Adelaide WTA tournament in January before reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.
She was defeated in the French Open fourth round by Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova.
Coric is a Croatian who got into the field thanks to a protected ranking because he has been injured. He cited a shoulder problem for his withdrawal.
He was drawn to face No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman and that spot will be filled by an as-yet-unannounced player who lost in qualifying.
Jaeger: Sexually harassed ‘at least 30 times’
Former teenage tennis phenom Andrea Jaeger said she was sexually harassed “at least 30 times” by a female Women’s Tennis Association staff member during the 1980s.
Jaeger, now 57, also told The Independent she also was unknowingly served alcohol when she was 16 by a different staff member, who drove her home and tried to kiss her.
The two-time Grand Slam finalist was on the tour from ages 14 to 19 and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world in 1981. Despite her success, she said she made it a habit to avoid WTA officials at tournaments during her five years on tour. Jaeger said much of the harassment occurred in locker rooms.
“I’d change in portable toilets or a bathroom stall because I didn’t want to deal with the comments, the interest or actions of people,” Jaeger said, according to The Independent. “I had at least 30 incidents with one specific non-playing staff member, physical attempts all in the locker room very, very early in my career. That particular non-playing staff employee had a major issue keeping her hands to herself.
“I avoided being in training rooms alone because an approach was made on me there as well.”
Jaeger said she was served multiple alcoholic drinks following the 1982 WTA Championships and began to get fuzzy. An official drove her home.
“When we got to my condo, she walked me to the door and tried something on with me,” Jaeger said. “She was trying to kiss me. I was so sickened that I was crawling up the stairs inside trying not to throw up so my dad wouldn’t see me.”
Jaeger said she complained to WTA officials after the incident and was threatened with reprisals.
She won 10 career titles before retiring at age 19 due to a shoulder injury.
Lightning’s Brayden Point remains out of lineup for Game 6 – Sportsnet.ca
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is not anticipating any lineup changes Sunday night for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final as forward Brayden Point continues to deal with an undisclosed “severe injury.”
Point sustained a leg injury during Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He returned for the start of the Stanley Cup Final and recorded one assist in two games before leaving the lineup again.
“It’s tricky too because players are used to playing at, I guess, a certain way or how they feel they can play,” Cooper told reporters. “If they don’t feel confident in playing at the calibre they’re used to, it almost works against them.
“It’s unfortunate because it was a severe injury and at this time of the year, everybody’s trying to get back into the lineup and there are just some things you can’t do. When you can’t do what you’re used to doing, it’s tough on the player.”
The 26-year-old Point, who has 78 points in 76 career postseason games, skated with the Lightning during Sunday morning’s practice, and Cooper did not completely rule him out for a potential Game 7.
“He’s still plugging along here and rehabbing and trying to get better. Who knows? If the series goes one more game, you never know,” Cooper said. “It’s tough on these guys because they’re such competitors.”
The Colorado Avalanche hold a 3-2 series lead looking to secure their first Stanley Cup since 2001 while the double defending champion Lightning are aiming to keep their hopes of a three-peat alive. Watch Game 6 live on Sportsnet or Sportsnet NOW starting at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT.
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