It’s finally here. The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs open tonight for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers finished the 2020-21 season with a record of 35-19-2, good for second in the North Division and eleventh in the entire NHL. As a result, they’ll hold home ice advantage to start this First Round series.
The Oilers welcome the Winnipeg Jets to Rogers Place for Game 1 of their series. It’s the seventh all-time meeting in the playoffs between the Oilers and Jets, who last met in 1990. The Oilers are 6-0 in the previous six series, and hold an overall advantage of 22-4. Edmonton went on to win the Stanley Cup in five of those seasons. In more recent times, the Oilers have won six straight against the Jets and were 7-2-0 against them this season.
Connor Hellebuyck gets the go for the Jets, while Mike Smith gets the start for the Oilers.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Take advantage of the situation. The Oilers enter the playoffs playing better hockey than the Jets, enter with home ice, and enter with the Jets missing two key pieces in Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Oilers have the stage set for them tonight to jump out to an early lead in this series. It is absolutely paramount that they take advantage of it and bring the same level of intensity they brought in the season series.
Winnipeg: Stay out of the box. The Jets stand no chance in this series if they have to both figure out the Oilers at five-on-five and four-on-five. Edmonton crushed Winnipeg on the skater advantage this season and when the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lines were on the ice at five-on-five. For the Jets to have a chance, they need to play a disciplined game and limit Edmonton’s most potent weapon.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Connor McDavid crushed the Jets this season. McDavid scored 22 points (7 g, 15 a) in the nine meetings between the teams, never scoring less than two points in a game against Winnipeg. McDavid also has a history of scoring in the playoffs, with 18 points (10 g, 8 a) in 17 games. That includes nine points (5 g, 4 a) in just four games against the Blackhawks back in August.
Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele is arguably the Jets best player, and he’ll need to play like it each and every shift in this series. Scheifele has scored 19 points (9 g, 10 a) in his career against the Oilers, but was hammered head-to-head by McDavid during the season series this year. If Winnipeg is going to have a chance, Scheifele needs to not only bring his strong offensive game, but must be better defensively.
The Oilers are getting a big, literally, addition tonight as Zack Kassian comes off the LTIR and will return to the lineup for the first time since April 21st. Devin Shore, Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Kyle Turris, Patrick Russell, Tyler Ennis, William Lagesson, Caleb Jones and Alex Stalock will be the healthy scratches tonight.
Kris Russell (lower body) is day-to-day and not yet ready for game action. He could be available later in the series.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Dominik Kahun – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
James Neal – Ryan McLeod – Zack Kassian
Josh Archibald – Jujhar Khaira – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Tyson Barrie
Dmitry Kulikov – Adam Larsson
Slater Koekkoek – Ethan Bear
The Jets will be without two key players, as forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (upper body) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (undisclosed) will miss Game 1. Nathan Beaulieu (hand) is on IR and will not play, while F Andrew Copp (undisclosed) is day-to-day but will be in the lineup. Tucker Poolman (undisclosed) is also day-to-day but will play.
Winnipeg Jets Lines:
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Andrew Copp – Paul Stastny – Kristian Vesalainen
Mathieu Perrault – Adam Lowry – Mason Appleton
Dominic Toninato – Nate Thompson – Trevor Lewis
Josh Morrissey – Dylan DeMelo
Derek Forbort – Neal Pionk
Logan Stanley – Tucker Poolman
“We should have a lot of confidence in our group right now and I know that we do,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said earlier on Wednesday ahead of his third trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “The feeling going in right now is that we have some confidence but it’s a different animal in playoffs, so we got to prepare for that. I think we’ve done everything right to this point and it starts tonight.”
The headlines, understandably, have been written about McDavid, Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse leading into this series. Mike Smith is just as important, however. Smith struggled in Game 1 against the Blackhawks last August, and never saw the net again. Tonight, he enters the playoffs as the unquestioned starter. In his career, Smith is 11-13 in 25 playoff starts with a 2.33 GAA, .934 save percentage and four shutouts. He’ll be key in this series.
The Oilers are entering the playoffs playing some of their best hockey. Since April 1st, the Oilers are 13-5-1. Overall on the season, they finished with the best powerplay in the NHL (27.6% success rate), ninth-best penalty kill (82.5% of penalties killed) and the seventh-most goals in the NHL with 183. This is a very good team peaking entering the most important time of year.