EDMONTON — We spent time measuring stick games or proving anything to anyone.
If your game isn’t sorted out by April 22nd, chances are you’ll already have your racquets in store to grab while the boat gets ready to hit the lake.
So as the Edmonton Oilers brace themselves for their last crack at the Western Conference’s elite unit, the Colorado Avalanche, it’s not about proving themselves that they can play with the best. That box was checked in two regular-season masterpieces that ended in Colorado’s favour, one in overtime and the other in a penalty shootout.
“Two of the best games I’ve seen in the last two and a half months,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft.
“Colorado are where they are in the league standings for a reason and we will be prepared for a top team to arrive here (Friday) night. (But) as much as we respect Colorado and how well structured they are — their overall score speaks for itself and commands attention — for us, we put a lot of emphasis on refining different parts of our game.”
Between Friday night and the next possible meeting of these teams in a Western Conference Finals, there is so much important hockey to play that you can’t even go to a place where Friday’s result could have anything to do with a series that includes five is gone or six weeks. There’s this team in Calgary, and then, Edmonton’s Derek Ryan said, “Edmonton beat Winnipeg quite a lot last year and then they got swept into the playoffs. So the regular season and the playoffs are very different.”
So let’s enjoy a Friday night tilt and an arena full of superstars for what it is: a playoff tune for an Avalanche lineup that could well feature Mikko Rantanen but will miss Gabriel Landeskog, Devon Toews and Ryan Murray, vs Oilers Team ranked in the top 5 or 6 in the NHL as of midseason.
Certainly, the Oilers will draw Colorado’s continued interest a little more than the Seattle Kraken did on Wednesday, in a 3-2 Kraken win over the Avs.
“When you’re up against certain teams — and certain guys you’re worried about — it helps bring out the best in our players. In the urgency of our players,” admitted Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar Thursday in Edmonton. “We saw it in the game against Washington. The kind of talent they have… we got more competitive as the game progressed and started to really get into it. We have a handful of games left here (five) and I think it’s good for our team to play competitive hockey. ”
Colorado has been home for a while and is cooling on the Central. They’re battling the Florida Panthers for the President’s Trophy with the more pressing goal of having their lineup healthy and intact when the playoffs begin on May 2nd or 3rd.
Edmonton, meanwhile, is making pretty good progress. The team has 11-0-1 in its last 12 games at Rogers Place, 7-1-1 in April and 16-5-3 since March 1, fifth best in the NHL. The Oilers game has beaten Colorado twice in the last month.
“We’ve been playing pretty good hockey lately,” Ryan said. “So it’s a good challenge for us to be able to do that against the best team in the league and be able to do that consistently. The last two times we’ve played it we’ve done it, but it’s capable of doing it over and over again. It takes that to be successful in the playoffs.”
Edmonton’s game is as solid today as it has been for, well…for as long as anyone can remember.
“Structured. Detailed. Don’t let giving up leads freak you out,” Ryan began. “The details in our D-Zone exits, our D-Zone coverage, our neutral zone preview. Our O-Zone pre-check – that’s a big part of our game, especially my line.
“Just every little facet of the game,” he continued. “We’ve put more emphasis on faceoffs, on how we do faceoffs in the offensive zone, on how we’re trying to get out of our own zone defensively, on faceoffs in the D-zone. Just every little detail in the game (is) especially big when you come down the track and play in the playoffs.
“These details can win or lose your games and I think in all these small areas our team has gotten immeasurably better.”
After a loss in Seattle, the Avs will stress test each of these areas in the Edmonton game.
So what better time to test playoff product than on a Friday night with one week left in the regular season?