The Edmonton Oilers look to be headed to the playoffs for the third season in a row. They currently hold the third spot in the division with 79 points in 67 games. The cutoff is generally 95 points, so they will have to go 8-7-0 to reach that, which is definitely doable by the way they’ve played at home recently. Let’s look at four potential playoff matchups we could see in the first or second round and the advantages and disadvantages of the Oilers matching up against those teams this postseason.
Los Angeles Kings
The first and most likely matchup that we are going to discuss is the possible second or third seed in the Pacific Division. The Los Angeles Kings have a two-point lead on the Oilers with one more game played. The Oilers have the tie-breaker at the moment, with 31 regulation wins to the Kings’ 28. They also battle tonight after splitting the season series to this point. The Oilers have a three-point lead on the next possible team in their division to kick one of them out of the top three, the Vegas Golden Knights, though the Oilers have one game in hand on them.
The Kings haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2017-18 and haven’t won a playoff round since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2013-14. Despite still having a few players from that team, the group as a whole is very young and inexperienced compared to the core of the Oilers, who still got eight games of playoff action over the past two seasons.
The Oilers have been dominant against their own division this season, going 14-5-0. The previous two playoff series they’ve lost have been against Central Division opponents if divisions were aligned normally. As of right now, the Kings are struggling, while the Oilers seem to have found their game, at least at home.
The tiebreaker I mentioned will be so important in this series, as the Oilers are coming into their matchup against the Kings tonight having won seven in a row at home and losing five in a row on the road (0-3-2). Surprisingly enough, in the season series between the Oilers and Kings, the winner has been the away team in both games.
Of the four players who have been with the Kings for both of their Stanley Cups last decade, Dustin Brown is the only one who has really fallen off this year. Anze Kopitar is having a solid season and leads the team in points. Drew Doughty has had a great year all-around, scoring 31 points and is still acting like a number one defenceman when he’s been healthy, and Jonathan Quick is enjoying a career resurgence.
Timing could be everything for the Kings come playoffs. Their team has been banged up all season, so to be where they are in the standings shows they’ve played consistently and as a team all season long. Whereas the Oilers have had one of the most up and down seasons among any team in the NHL. The Kings still have 14 games remaining to find their game and ramp up their play for the postseason, while the Oilers could cool off a bit after they’ve played so well.
The words “Battle of Alberta.” That’s enough to get anyone excited about this matchup, regardless of who the favourite is. This is a matchup the entire hockey world wants to see, especially fans of either side. The games this year have lived up to the hype, but this would likely be a second-round matchup if it happens, which would raise the stakes and make it that much more entertaining.
We will get to experience the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs for the first time since the 1991 first round when the series went in favour of the Oilers. They also won against the Flames in the 1983, 1984, and 1988 playoffs, while the Flames won only one series vs. the Oilers in the postseason, which was in 1986.
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These teams have matched up very evenly this season, and we had a throwback to old-time hockey in a 9-5 Flames win in their final regular-season battle this year. The Oilers took the first two games by a score of 5-2 and 5-3, dropping the previous two 3-1 and 9-5. The Oilers also had the upper hand on the Flames last season, going 6-4. This is, of course, a much different season, but Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl pace the NHL again with 98 and 96 points.
Like the Oilers, the Flames started hot, going 6-1-1. They also had a rough patch around the same time the Oilers lost 13 of 15 games, but the Flames didn’t fall off nearly as bad and weren’t forced to change coaches. The worst stretch they had was 2-7-1. They followed that up soon after with a 10-game win streak and haven’t looked back.
They have four 30-goal scorers, one of two teams in the NHL, and have gotten amazing goaltending from Jacob Markstrom all season. He is in contention for the Vezina Trophy this season and has nine shutouts already, more than his entire career combined before this year.
The Flames win the goaltending matchup if you look at it on paper and have a slight edge with their defencemen. Their forwards are very good, and it only boosted their efficiency when the team added Tyler Toffoli and Calle Jarnkrok before the trade deadline. They are so deep they can afford to healthy scratch Sean Monahan. The Oilers’ forward group matches up or is even better, but they will have to play above their weight class if they want to compete with the Flames in a series.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are probably the least likely of the four, considering they are currently on the outside looking in on the playoffs. As of today, they have a 43.8 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs via MoneyPuck, whereas the Oilers and Kings both have 88-plus percent chances, and the Dallas Stars, who hold the second wildcard spot, have a 76.4 percent chance. The Golden Knights are one point back of the Stars with three extra games played.
If this matchup happens within the first two rounds, it would mean the Golden Knights fixing whatever problems they’ve had on the road recently and either moving into the top three in the division or taking over the first wildcard spot.
To draw attention to their struggles on the road, the Golden Knights have lost seven games in a row in regulation and have been shut out in two consecutive games. The Oilers will likely have the home-ice advantage if these teams meet. So the Golden Knights’ away streak, combined with the Oilers’ win streak of seven at home, doesn’t bode well for the start of the series. I see it like how the Oilers have played their games this season — if they score first, they lock it down. If they win the first game, that’ll be a change of pace from the previous two playoff series, and they won’t be fighting from behind.
The Oilers have also taken care of the Golden Knights this season thus far, winning two of three matchups and both in Vegas by a score of 5-3 and 3-2. Their loss came in Mike Smith’s first game back in over a month and the second-last game coached by Dave Tippett.
We all know how dangerous the Golden Knights have been since their inception. They have not only qualified for the playoffs in all four seasons since entering the league, but they have also won seven playoff series and made it to the Conference Final in three of the four seasons. The one exception was the controversial call that gave the San Jose Sharks a five-minute power play in Game 7, where they then lost in overtime. That is what sparked the change in major penalties being reviewed.
Nothing will happen until next season if changes occur, but the Golden Knights have utilized their long-term injured reserve throughout the season and now past the trade deadline. If all their players come back healthy for the playoffs, barring they make it in, they will be way over the cap, much like how the Tampa Bay Lightning were when Nikita Kucherov returned for playoffs and they won the Cup.
We haven’t seen a Golden Knights lineup that is fully healthy, but if we do, they are a real threat for even the Stanley Cup and a team nobody will want to match up against.
Next to the Oilers battling the Flames in a Battle of Alberta, a matchup with the Colorado Avalanche may be one of the most exciting possibilities we could get. The first game between the two this year went as expected. It was highly entertaining and ended in an overtime finish by the Avalanche (from ‘The Avalanche edge the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in a dandy O/T tilt in Denver,’ Edmonton Journal, March 22, 2022).
There are not too many here outside the fact that it should be a highly entertaining and high-flying series. The Oilers have suffered first-round exits in each of the past two seasons, winning only one game.
The Avalanche haven’t had too much luck themselves, considering key injuries and suspensions always seem to show their face early in the playoffs. This team has been put out in the second round in three consecutive seasons and in the first round the year before that, so they are also searching to get over the hump with the core group of players they have.
Unless the Oilers fall to fourth in the division, they wouldn’t drop to the second wildcard spot and have to play the Avalanche in the first round. If the Oilers do fall out of the top three, then they are in more trouble of not even qualifying.
A big problem that could occur if these two teams were to match up is the inability of the Oilers to keep the puck out of their net. The goaltending matchup favours the Avalanche heavily, as both of their goalies are better than both of the Oilers. Playoffs are where games tighten up, so if the Oilers can’t get stops or be structured defensively, the games will be broken wide open, and they won’t be able to recover. As you may know, the Oilers are much better when they get the first goal of the game rather than give up the first one.
The Oilers’ forward group can match up with any in the league at this point since they finally have depth and wingers who are producing. The Avalanche have also solved that problem and have that depth as well. They have four players who have recorded 70-plus points already this season and have the best defensive pairing in the NHL of Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
That pairing outmatches anything the Oilers can put together, as they are a force offensively and defensively. Both are in the top-five in plus/minus while being matched up against the opponents’ top lines; plus, they have a combined 39 goals as defencemen. Every defenceman combined on the Oilers this season has just 25 goals.
No team is going to be a walk in the park come playoff time. Which matchup(s) are you most looking forward to seeing if it was to happen? Comment below.