The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames in five games in the first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years. The Oilers dropped Game 1 in a throwback to the 1980s and then took over the series. You’re not in trouble in a series until you lose at home, and the Flames got themselves into trouble early.
Here’s a look at the three key reasons why the Oilers came out on top in this Round 2 series, as they did more often than not during their dynasty days.
Oilers’ Stars Showed Up
For the second series in a row, Connor McDavid sealed the deal, this time with an overtime winner in Game 5, despite claiming that he played bad all night. He earned at least one point in every game of the series, but his fifth and final game was the least productive and arguably his worst. “I’m happy to contribute on a night I didn’t have my best,” McDavid said after the game. “It felt great to see that go in.”
He finished the series with three goals, 12 points, a plus-9 rating, 18 hits, and four multi-point games, which pushed his playoff total to 10 of 12 games with two-plus points. He should still be considered the Conn Smythe favourite, and he is the first reigning Art Ross Trophy winner to appear in the Conference Finals since Daniel Sedin in 2011.
Speaking of early favourites for playoff MVP, Leon Draisaitl dominated the Flames in Round 2 and set multiple records in the process. He became the first player in NHL history to record four assists in a single playoff period while also recording three or more points in all five games of the series. He set the NHL record at four consecutive playoff games recording three-plus points, but in dominating fashion, had to extend that in the series-clinching Game 5 win (from “Player grades: McDavid, Draisaitl and friends deliver in crunch time as Oilers snuff Flames in 5,” Edmonton Journal, 5/27/22).
Draisaitl set the record for the most points in a Battle of Alberta playoff series while only playing five games. He finished with 17 points, more than the next closest, Wayne Gretzky’s 14 points in 1983. Draisaitl also joined Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to average an assist per game in the playoffs, with 19 assists in 12 games. Draisaitl’s 17 points also rank third all-time in a single playoff series and in five games. At his scoring pace of 3.4 points per game in Round 2, he would have broken the record in a seven-game series and is considered the MVP.
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Let’s not forget about Evander Kane, the third member of the Oilers’ top line for most of that series. He has scored 12 goals through 12 playoff games and is on track for record-setting numbers. He added five goals in the second round, in Games 3 and 4. His second-period natural hat trick in Game 3 proved just how much of an impact and how great of a signing he has been since his arrival in Edmonton. Combine that with his physical play and ability to get himself into scoring position all the time, and Kane was too much for the Flames to handle.
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The fourth star of Round 2 was Zach Hyman, who got his first taste of the Battle of Alberta this season. As the games intensified, so did his play. He flew under the radar in the series, even after scoring in each of the five games for six goals, playing mostly on the second line, but was promoted once the Oilers couldn’t get much going in Game 5. He ended the game with one goal, two assists, plus-4, seven shots, four hits, and over 23:30 minutes played. That only added to his series totals of six goals, eight points, and a plus-seven.
Oilers’ Ability to Get to Vezina Finalist Markstrom
The Oilers seem to be Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom‘s kryptonite as they consistently found it easy to score goals on him this season. A goaltender who was high on the Oilers’ wish list before he signed with the Flames, they are now glad they were able to face him all season and in Round 2.
After allowing just 11 goals in seven games in Round 1 vs the Dallas Stars, Markstrom couldn’t stop much from the Oilers. He allowed 24 goals in five games and four or more in each. He was pulled in Game 3 after Kane and the Oilers lit him up in the second period. Ironically, he earned his best save percentage of .882 in the game.
There were mixed predictions going into the series about whether it would be close shutdown hockey or high-flying? The answer was the latter, and it favoured the Oilers. Some may have seen the goals coming – even after the Flames shut down the Stars – since the Oilers scored four or more goals on Markstrom in three of the four games during the regular season. There weren’t many big moments that changed the tides for Markstrom, and he led off Game 4 with a big blunder for a goal against in the first minute.
Physical & Tenacious Play
The Oilers definitely brought the physicality to the Battle of Alberta as they were throwing the body around, even their stars, all series, finishing with 153 hits. McDavid had multiple hits every game and only recorded less than four once. Hyman and Kailer Yamamoto threw the body a lot, and Kane was an absolute force.
The fourth line may not have played much, but they were physical when they did see the ice, with two energy players who weren’t afraid to lay the body and finish every check. I’m referring to Zack Kassian, who has the size and stature to do so, and Josh Archibald, who is small but doesn’t let that stop him from running around hitting everything in sight.
A key to Game 4 and 5 was how the Oilers played physically against Chris Tanev, who had just returned and was still dealing with three significant injuries. He is an important piece on the Flames’ back end, and the Oilers made sure he wasn’t going to heal during the series.
The Battle of Alberta did not disappoint and the Oilers await the winner of the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues series. Either one will be a tough test.