After a challenging 2021-22 NHL season where the Edmonton Oilers were counted out many times, they find themselves down 2-0 in the 2022 NHL Western Conference Final against the Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers weren’t supposed to come back and beat the Los Angeles Kings after going down 3-2 in their opening-round series heading back to LA.
Connor McDavid and company proved many people wrong as the Oilers stormed back to win Games 6 and 7. Remember the predictions that the Calgary Flames would take out the Oilers before the Western Conference Semi-Final series started? Should we count the Oilers out again?
McDavid Will Bounce Back at Home
Connor McDavid didn’t quite seem his dominating self in Games 1 and 2 in Denver. Many people said he was shut down by the great Cale Makar, Devon Toews or the many strong forward lines the Avalanche threw at him. After watching McDavid closely all season, I think the 5,000-foot altitude in Denver may have been the biggest thing that slowed the Oilers captain down. This isn’t an excuse, but I feel that the altitude difference between Denver and Edmonton of over 3,000 feet really favored the Avalanche. Expect McDavid to really come out flying in Games 3 and 4 in Edmonton.
Edmonton’s Home Crowd Will Boost the Oilers
NHL hockey players are professional athletes who are trained to be focused and not let the fans affect them, right? Well, they’re also human beings first and when you have an intense home crowd like Edmonton has, it can affect even the most poised athlete positively or negatively.
Colorado hasn’t faced an Edmonton playoff crowd since 1998 when the Oilers took the Avalanche out in seven games, and they’re about to face close to 18,000 opponents for two games at Rogers Place. It’s not just the noise and the cheering, it’s the force of the Oilers fanbase that the Avalanche will be dealing with. We’re not talking about Yoda and Darth Vadar here, but a playoff-mad city that has given their team a lift just when they needed it many times over the years. Expect nothing less in Games 3 and 4 of the 2022 Western Conference Final.
Oilers Can Beat Avalanche Goaltending
Game 2 featured journeyman goaltender Pavel Francouz taking the net for the Avalanche in place of injured starter Darcy Kuemper who was hurt midway through Game 1. Francouz was solid in his Game 2 start blanking the Oilers 4-0. However, the Oilers didn’t generate too many grade-A scoring chances. Darnell Nurse’s breakaway may have been the Oilers’ best opportunity to score and Francouz came up with his best save of the night when he channeled his inner Johnny Bower and poke checked Nurse and cleared the puck.
Francouz is not the second coming of Patrick Roy here. Nor is the Oilers’ Mike Smith the second coming of Grant Fuhr. But if the Oilers are hoping to have any chance to get back into the series, they have to get to Francouz early in Games 3 and 4 and the same applies to Kuemper if he returns from injury.
Oilers Play Well as the Underdog
The Oilers have a knack for playing some of their best hockey when they are being counted out. From way back in 1981 when young Andy Moog stole the show in the Oilers’ sweep of the Montreal Canadiens to the 1998 version of the team beating Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and the Avalanche in seven games, this franchise has a never-say-die attitude.
It’s almost like it’s in the Oilers’ DNA to prove skeptics wrong when the odds are against them. The 2021-22 version of the Oilers have already drank from these waters when they beat the Kings and Flames to get to the Western Conference Final, and despite looking like a Jr. B team at times against the powerful Avalanche early in this series, you have to know the Oilers will throw everything they have at Colorado at home. Expect McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and company to come out strong. If the Oilers can win one or both of their home games, we could have another epic Edmonton Oilers playoff series on our hands. This time for a whole new generation of fans.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.