ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks square off in Game 1 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series Wednesday at Honda Center.
For visiting Edmonton, it is uncharted waters for a franchise that missed the playoffs in the 10 previous seasons. Anaheim, meanwhile, emerged as the favorite to win the Western Conference after the surprising first-round elimination of the Chicago Blackhawks, who fell to the Nashville Predators.
The Oilers won their opening series against banged-up San Jose in unexpected fashion by shutting down the Sharks in six games. Despite having the third-best offense in the Western Conference during the regular season, Edmonton recorded only 12 goals in the six games and were outscored by San Jose 14-12 thanks mostly to the Sharks' 7-0 victory in Game 4.
Center Connor McDavid, the favorite to win the Hart Trophy awarded to the league MVP, was merely average against the Sharks, registering two goals (including one empty-netter) and two assists.
The Oilers' best player in the series was goaltender Cam Talbot, who posted two shutouts, a 2.03 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
Edmonton knows it will need to produce more offense against Anaheim in order to advance.
If McDavid is to return to form, he likely will have to do it against one of the game's premier defensive centers, Anaheim's Ryan Kesler. The burly center has been nominated for the Frank J. Selke Award, presented to the league's best defensive forward, for the fifth time. Kesler won the Selke in 2011 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, but despite his defensive prowess, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan does not appear to be concerned about the matchup.
"Matching can be overemphasized, it can take a number of players out of the game, it can destroy your rhythm and you'd like to have an edge, but if you don't get it, you still got to find ways to win," McLellan said. "We're going to play four of seven games on the road, odds are we're not going to get favorable matchups, we'll find a way to get through it somehow."
The Ducks had a much easier first round, sweeping the wild-card Calgary Flames in four games, continuing their recent domination of the matchup. The four-game whitewash gave Anaheim 23 wins in its past 26 games versus the Flames, but the Ducks expect a far tougher series against an Edmonton team that finished two points behind them in the Pacific Division race.
A key to victory is the health of the Ducks' defensive corps. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen all could be in the lineup for Game 1, coach Randy Carlyle announced Tuesday. Vatanen and Fowler missed the first round, but fortunately for Carlyle, his blue-line depth chart is arguably the deepest in the league.
Rookies Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour each averaged about 20 minutes in the first round and are solid insurance policies if any of their established blue-liners are not 100 percent. Theodore and Ryan Getzlaf led the way offensively against Calgary with two goals and three assists apiece.
Carlyle said he expects far tougher sledding against Edmonton. The Oilers won three of the five regular-season meetings and outscored the Ducks 14-12. This is only the second time the teams have met in the playoffs, with the Oilers winning in five games in 2006 en route to the Stanley Cup finals.
"Every inch of the ice is earned as you move deeper into the playoffs," Carlyle said. "The teams that win those battles give themselves a better chance of moving on. We not surprised to be facing the Oilers, they got the job done against San Jose, and we know this series will be tougher than the last one."
The Oilers also received good news on their blue-line contingent when defenseman Oscar Klefbom announced he was at full strength after missing the third period of Edmonton's Game 6 clincher with an undisclosed illness.
"I feel good, almost back to normal," Klefbom said. "I didn't feel very good on the bench in San Jose but felt a lot better after the game when we won that game. I feel a lot better now and should be good to go (Wednesday)."
Edmonton may reunite its top line of McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl in the hopes of reigniting the offense. Draisaitl feasted on the Ducks in the regular season, registering six goals and two assists. Maroon has seen the chemistry his two linemates have created against Anaheim this season and expects to see more starting Wednesday.
"Just finding those little holes and creating offense for yourself, that's what elite players do," Maroon said. "Connor and Leon do a really good job of that, and they will be playing against the best defensive line in all the NHL in (Jakob) Silfverberg, (Andrew) Cogliano and Kesler."
Oilers, McDavid brace for next challenge: Ducks
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