The Edmonton Oilers can clinch a berth in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a point of any kind tonight in Vancouver. A victory not only would clinch them a playoff spot, but would inch them closer to the number two seed in the North Division and home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.
If Edmonton does win tonight, their playoff fate and seeding will essentially be wrapped up with five games remaining on the schedule, including another in Vancouver tomorrow night. That will give Head Coach Dave Tippett an opportunity to play some of his reserve players that may be called on come playoff time.
“You got to make sure your team is ready. In saying that, some players maybe haven’t played as much lately that you want to get a game or two here or there,” Tippett said on Sunday when asked about getting games in for some players. Defensemen Evan Bouchard (taxi squad) and Slater Koekkoek (LTIR) are both options, as is defenseman Philip Broberg, who was just assigned to the taxi squad on Sunday.
“On the other side of it, you want to make sure your team is in sync and in rhythm down the stretch,” Tippett continued. “We’ll try to manage that as best we can. Some of it will be as you come through here and have bumps and bruises, you might give somebody an extra day to heal up a little bit that maybe you normally wouldn’t.”
Among the injured group could be defenseman Tyson Barrie, who has cooled down considerably and looked uncomfortable in recent games. Star players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could also be in line for a night or two off down the stretch.
“We’ll manage that as the next two weeks go here,” said Tippett. “Those factors of making sure that our team is prepared as best we can, some of those factors come into play. Making sure that you get some people some minutes that maybe haven’t gotten many to make sure they’re ready.”
One of those players will be goaltender Mikko Koskinen. The starter coming into the season, Koskinen was put into a difficult spot when Mike Smith injured himself on opening night in warmup. As a result, Koskinen basically had to handle the month of January on his own, and saw his numbers suffer.
He played well in a victory over the Jets last Wednesday night, and has actually been quite good since Smith returned. Tippett confirmed he’ll get a few starts down the stretch to stay ready just in case.
“Everything we’ll do as a team in preparation of how we play, how much rest we get and making sure we’re giving ourselves the best chance to be as good a team as we can be down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Tippett added. “That’s what we’re going to do.”