On Sunday night, the Calgary Flames defeated the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime to punch their ticket to round 2, setting up one of the most highly anticipated playoff series in recent memory. The Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature the Battle of Alberta for the first time since 1991. It is one of hockey’s most storied rivalries, finally rekindled in a playoff setting. In this article, I will break down the matchup and provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each team and where the series could be won or lost.
Both Alberta teams scored a ton of goals in the regular season, with the Oilers netting 285 goals with an xGF of 273.64 and the Flames scoring 291 goals with a 273.18 xGF. The scoring was pretty even, but the Flames padded their offensive stats with a brief red hot stretch a few months back. I suspect that the Flames will be more content to keep this a physical, tight-checking series. Calgary has never seemed to have an answer for Connor McDavid, as he has produced an incredible 26 goals and 21 assists for 41 points in 34 career games vs. the Flames. McDavid’s 1.38 P/GP is his highest against any team. It will be interesting to see if the Flames match the Gaudreau line head to head against the McDavid line or if they elect to use the Selke nominee Mikael Backlund to shut him down. I suspect the Oilers will try to play McDavid and Draisaitl together so that they can have one dominant line and a solid second line with Evander Kane and Zach Hyman on the wing. For me, the Oilers have the better top-six, but the Flames’ depth could give the Oilers all they can handle.
The Calgary Flames feature the first pair of Noah Hanafin and Rasmus Andersson, who have had a fantastic season. As for the second pair, an injury to Chris Tanev in the first round against the Dallas Stars could push Michael Stone into the top 4. Tanev would be a potentially massive loss for the Flames, and while Michel Stone is capable enough on the second pair, for the time being, any other injuries to the back end could put Calgary in trouble against the Oilers’ star players. From an Oilers perspective, Duncan Keith and Evan Bouchard had a mostly rough first-round series against the LA Kings and will need to tighten things up and play as sharp as they did in game 7 if they’re going to shut down the Flames. Cody Ceci has been fantastic as of late and will be a significant factor in trying to slow down the Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk line.
The Edmonton Oilers were one of the most dangerous powerplay teams in the NHL, scoring at a 26% clip with a 79.4% PK unit. The Flames weren’t quite as electrifying on the PP as Edmonton with a 22.9%. However, they had one of the best PKs in the league. The Flames were only able to muster a measly 8.3% on the powerplay in round 1 against Jake Oettinger and the Dallas Stars. If they continue to struggle, the Flames could have difficulties keeping up with the high-flying Edmonton offense. As for the Pk, the Oilers were fantastic in round 1, albeit against a relatively weak LA powerplay unit, and they will be tasked with continuing to limit the Calgary offense. The Oilers’ powerplay is one of the biggest factors in this series. If Edmonton is able to make the Flames pay for taking penalties, that might back Calgary off from their normally aggressive forechecking and physical game.
Jacob Markstrom had the best regular season of his career this year, earning a nomination for the Vezina Trophy this past week. Markstrom has been every bit as advertised in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, posting a .943 SV% and 4.8 GSAx in a goaltending duel for the ages against Oettinger. Mike Smith, on the other hand, has had a roller-coaster season. He battled through injuries and inconsistency for the first two-thirds of the year before finding his game and entering the playoffs as one of the hottest goalies in the NHL. In the first round, he got off to a tough start when he threw an absolute pizza up the middle of the ice in the final five minutes of game 1, which was picked off and eventually led to the game-winning goal. Since then, Smith has recorded two shutouts in 6 games, including a steady performance in a 2-0 win in game 7. Shockingly, Mike Smith leads all goalies in the playoffs with a 10.4 GSAx. The Flames beat a hot goalie in round 1, and they will have to do the very same here to get by the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers will need to have a good transition game in order to back the Flames off of their forecheck, and they will have to win the special teams battle as they did in the last series. As for the Flames, pressuring the Edmonton defense to disrupt the breakout and clogging up the neutral zone to nullify the rush chances that make up a good portion of the Edmonton offense will be their main keys to victory. As usual for the Oilers, scoring the first goal will be massive in allowing them to establish their game and open things up. This series will likely be a long one, and I, for one, absolutely cannot wait!