The Oilers’ playoff run continues to the conference finals


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The Edmonton Oilers are headed back to the Western Conference finals, after holding on to defeat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 of their second-round series.

Edmonton’s win sets up a matchup with the Dallas Stars, who defeated the Colorado Avalanche in six games.

Here are the key takeaways from the Oilers’ run so far, and how they match up with the Stars in the next round:

Both Oilers special teams are proving elite

It’s possible that what the Canucks did in Games 5 and 6 may have provided something of a blueprint for how to at least slow down the Oilers’ power play. But even then, the Oilers have used this postseason to once again show why they’ve been one of the premier power-play units in the NHL over the past few seasons.

Coming into Game 7, the Oilers had the NHL’s best power-play unit, with a 36.8% success rate that’s been buoyed by Leon Draisaitl scoring six of their 14 goals while Connor McDavid had 10 assists.

But for anyone thinking the power play is the Oilers’ lone advantage on special teams, guess again. The Oilers’ penalty kill has also been the best in the NHL this postseason, as it has had a success rate of more than 90%. Mattias Ekholm, Vincent Desharnais, Mattias Janmark and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all playing vital roles in anchoring the kill, logging more than 20 minutes in those short-handed sequences this postseason.

What a difference a year makes

Go back to what happened to the Oilers when they were eliminated in the second round last season.

Among the issues they faced then was finding defensive consistency. They allowed the sixth-most goals per game (3.50), the eighth-most shots per game (31.5) and possessed an average penalty kill (75.6%).

One of the questions facing the Oilers heading into this past offseason was seeing what lessons they would learn from their second-round exit.

With coach Kris Knoblauch’s in-season arrival, the Oilers have found that defensive consistency, and it has carried over to the playoffs. Entering Game 7, the Oilers had allowed the ninth-most goals per game, at 2.82, while allowing the fewest shots per game, at 21.2. And as previously mentioned, their penalty kill ranks first this postseason.

How will Stuart Skinner perform on the big stage?

No Oiler came into this postseason facing more questions than Skinner, and this will be the biggest series of his career. He was pulled in the final three games of their second-round exit last year, with the thought being that his performances are central to the Oilers’ success.

After being pulled in Game 3 against the Canucks, Skinner returned in Game 6 and stopped all but one shot in his team’s series-tying win.

But how will Skinner fare now that he’s going from facing a team that was averaging the fewest shots in the playoffs to one that’s averaging the second most (behind the Oilers themselves)? Bear in mind that the goaltender he’s competing against — Jake Oettinger — is a Conn Smythe front-runner and in the top three of several categories.

The spotlight is squarely on Skinner.

Will the Oilers’ secondary scoring show up in the conference finals?

Evan Bouchard, Zach Hyman, Draisaitl and McDavid scored 64% of the Oilers’ goals last playoffs. This year, that quartet has combined to score 66% of the Oilers goals coming into Game 7. While McDavid has only scored two of those goals, it does create questions about what the Oilers can do to find secondary and tertiary scoring against a Stars team that’s had all but one player record a point during these playoffs.

The bottom-six lineup the Oilers used for Game 7 had combined to score two goals with both goals belonging to Warren Foegele and Mattias Janmark. It’s a jarring contrast considering the Oilers’ third defensive pairing of Codi Ceci and Brett Kulak had two goals, with Ceci scoring in Game 7 to push that total for three.

How the Oilers match up against the Stars

Regular season record vs. DAL: 1-2-0

One team is the most prolific in these playoffs, while the other has been one of the best at goal prevention throughout the postseason.

This is just one of the prisms through which an Oilers-Stars conference finals can be viewed.

While scoring remains a hallmark of the Oilers, they’ve used these playoffs to show that their defensive structure can also generate results. Continuing to rely on those principles could prove useful against a Stars team that also is capable of winning games in a variety of ways.

And if Skinner can provide the sort of stability in net that can at least equal Oettinger? That could be enough to push the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006.

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