Western Finals Features MacKinnon vs. McDavid, 2 Quick Teams

DENVER (AP) — The main act of the Western Conference Finals: Connor McDavid vs. Nathan MacKinnon.

The show is about to get really good.

This is a series that is sure to generate plenty of end-to-end entertainment, fast-paced and goal-scoring as McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers meet MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche starting Tuesday night in Game 1.

Led by two of hockey’s best players, the Oilers and Avalanche are the two highest-scoring teams in the playoffs, both averaging more than four goals per game.

“I’m sure this is the dream game the league wanted in the West,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said Sunday of the MacKinnon-McDavid story. “Two of the best players in the league are getting into it. Two of the fastest players. Two of the most talented guys you can really pick in the league. I think it’s great for hockey. I think it’s great for the fans. I think it’s great for both teams.

The Oilers scouted the Avalanche and came to the same conclusion: they’re a lot like them — quick and capable.

“It’s going to be an exciting game and I think it’s going to be great for the fans to watch,” said Edmonton defenseman Tyson Barrie, who was drafted by Colorado in 2009 and dealt to Toronto in 19 as part of the deal that brought Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche. “We will have to slow them down at times.”

But how? How does a team slow down MacKinnon or McDavid?

For Johnson, this is where against MacKinnon every practice helps. He saw the speed and the movements. He has an idea of ​​what it’s going to be like with McDavid.

“Sometimes we take a lot of lines against Nate in practice and it’s kind of like, ‘Whoa. So that’s how I feel,’” Johnson said. “It’s a handful. It really helps when you’re up against the best (in training). It sometimes makes things a little easier in matches.”

The headliners may be McDavid and MacKinnon, but every team has plenty of game breakers.

For the Oilers, there’s Leon Draisaitl for the Oilers, the 2019-20 Hart winner. He has the same stat line this postseason as McDavid – seven goals, 19 assists for 26 points, which leads the league.

“Everyone has to bring it. Everybody,” Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews said of Draisaitl and McDavid’s defense. “We need everyone to defend against guys like that.”

Colorado has a balanced offense as MacKinnon leads with eight goals, including a Game 5 hat trick against St. Louis in the second round. But there’s also defenseman Cale Makar (three goals, 10 assists) as well as captain Gabriel Landeskog (six goals, five goals) and Kadri (five goals, including a hat trick in Game 4 at St. Louis). The Avalanche are averaging 4.3 goals per game, even with their regular-season leading scorer, Mikko Rantanen, who has only scored on an empty net so far (he has 10 assists).

“Our team is playing well,” Toews said. “It’s going to take a group effort of everyone pulling the same string (against Edmonton).”

In the regular season, the Avalanche had two out of three wins with one victory in overtime and another in a shootout. In the shootout, McDavid was blocked by Darcy Kuemper, while MacKinnon scored over Mikko Koskinen for what would prove to be the winner.

Kuemper will have his hands full with the Oilers after stopping 197 of 218 shots so far in the playoffs ( he was injured in Game 3 in Nashville after a stick went through his mask and hit him near the eye. He returned for the Blues series). Edmonton has Mike Smith, the 40-year-old goaltender who is 8-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average so far in the playoffs.

“We’ve had great confidence in our group for a long time,” said two-time Hart winner McDavid. “Here we are in the last four. We still have a lot of hockey to play and play against a very good Colorado hockey team, it’s going to take our best efforts.


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Pat Graham, The Associated Press