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Game 1 Preview: Let the Conference Final begin

Who will end up the victor of this star-studded series?

Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Tonight the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers meet at Ball Arena in Denver, CO, for game one of the Western Conference Final. Colorado is making its first Conference Final appearance in 20 years after defeating the St. Louis Blues in round two. The Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames in their previous playoff round thanks to dominating performances from their two best players.

Colorado Avalanche

Getting past the second round likely comes with a sense of relief for this Avalanche team. At times doing so seemed like an almost impossible task, but Colorado did indeed “Find A Way” to get through the St. Louis Blues and their championship pedigree. Now it’s on to a different kind of test.

The Oilers might not have the same playoff prowess as the Blues, but they more than makeup for that by employing a slew of elite talent. Can Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen contain and keep up with the Oiler’s top group? I believe so.

I’d prepare for a low-scoring endeavor despite the firepower on each side of this matchup. That firepower should mean that the Avalanche will buy into Bednar’s year-long message that revolves around capitalizing on the opportunities created by next-level checking. We will see this more clearly in Nathan MacKinnon than any other player. He and every Avalanche will have to be first to the puck and win most puck battles to win this series.

Darren Helm and JT Compher were the unlikely heroes in Colorado’s series-clinching victory over the Blues. It’s essential to get clutch performances from depth players this time of year, and hopefully, that theme continues for Colorado.

Projected Lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Artturi Lehkonen
Valeri Nichushkin — Nazem Kadri — Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky — JT Compher — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor

Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson

Edmonton Oilers

What is there to say about the Oilers that hasn’t already been hammered into our brains by national media members? They have “the two best players in the world” in Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both of which have logged 26 points in 12 games in these playoffs. They gave Evander Kane a new lease on his hockey life, and he has run with it, becoming one of Edmonton’s more prolific playoff performers.

Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have carried their team thus far in these playoffs, and I won’t acknowledge an opinion that says otherwise. McDavid, in particular, has played as if he won’t be denied. He has an innate ability to take over when things are tight. Colorado will have to limit his impact on the series to ensure a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Projected Lineup:

Evander Kane — Connor McDavid — Leon Draisaitl
Zach Hyman — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Jesse Puljujarvi
Warren Foegele — Ryan McLoed — Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald — Derek Ryan — Zack Kassian

Darnell Nurse — Cody Ceci
Ducan Keith — Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak — Tyson Barrie

Goaltenders

Darcy Kuemper will get the nod for Colorado Avalanche for tonight’s game. He should be feeling like he has a new lease on hockey life beginning a new playoff round. The Avalanche were able to advance despite Kuemper not necessarily being at his best. He was good enough but has the potential to be great in this series.

For the Oilers, it will be Mike Smith. Smith and the Avalanche have met in the playoffs before and things did not go well for him. He went 1-4 in that series and was statistically dreadful. Can he turn things around with a new team?