Jets vs. Oilers: 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview

It’s easy to look at the Edmonton Oilers and view them as a one-man team. If you’re being kind to Leon Draisaitl (and you should, he’s great), then some might call them a two-man team, alongside Connor McDavid.

But that feels unfair to an Oilers team that took the North’s second seed by a hefty margin. An Edmonton group that enjoyed the sort of goal differential you’d expect from a legitimate playoff team.

Will the Oilers lean on McDavid and Draisaitl a ton? Sure, but don’t underestimate this group. Let’s look at this Oilers – Jets series, and why Edmonton should be considered favorites.

OILERS VS. JETS – series livestream link

Wednesday, May 19: Jets at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Friday, May 21: Jets at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Sunday, May 23: Oilers at Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Monday, May 24: Oilers at Jets, 9:45 p.m. ET
*Wednesday, May 26: Jets at Oilers TBD
*Friday, May 28: Oilers at Jets TBD
*Sunday, May 30: Jets at Oilers TBD

Jets – Oilers: Stories to Watch

Can McDavid (and Draisaitl) conjure playoff magic after historic regular season?

At some point during the 2020-21 regular season, Connor McDavid wasn’t really competing with other players — even Leon Draisaitl — for the Hart Trophy. Instead, in blowing away the already-unthinkable milestone of 100-plus points in 56 games, McDavid adjusted his crosshairs. McDavid was battling history.

Of course, once any sports superstar starts to truly dominate as an individual, critics will demand even more. Specifically, they’ll want that individual to enjoy team success.

As hard as it is to believe, it was something stars like Michael Jordan and Mario Lemieux faced as superstars stuck on overmatched teams. (Most of us can at least remember Alex Ovechkin‘s troubles, right? Hey, take your eyes off Roblox for a minute, kiddos.)

For years, the Oilers have been so hopeless, even McDavid and Draisaitl couldn’t save them.

There’s never been a better opportunity for McDavid, Draisaitl, and the Oilers to go on a run — and it would be fair to be disappointed if they ran out of gas vs. the Jets.

If the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs end up like years past, then that puts a lot of pressure on McDavid. That’s because in hockey, what should happen isn’t always what actually happens.

(Camera pans to Jaroslav Halak in 2010.)

Connor vs. Connor

Connor McDavid is the world’s greatest hockey Connor, but Connor Hellebuyck makes for one excellent silver medalist.

(Frankly, he was probably the best Connor last season, when he dragged the Jets to a playoff berth.)

Quietly or not, Mike Smith‘s been fantastic this season. Even so, it’s fair to say that, if a member of the Jets carries Winnipeg (in a good way, that is), it’s most likely that Connor Hellebuyck will be the one doing it.

If you go by 2020-21 season stats alone, Hellebuyck might make the wrong kind of difference. Against every other Canadian/North Division team, Hellebuyck produced a .911 save percentage or better. In seven games against McDavid and the Oilers, Hellebuyck went 2-5-0 with a not-very-Hellbuyckian .877 save percentage.

Really, the Jets should cross their fingers that officials put away their whistles. The Oilers scored eight power-play goals in seven games vs. Hellebuyck. (The closest other team: the Canadiens with five PPG, and that was through nine games.)

On paper, the Jets don’t just need their goalie to match the Oilers’ netminders. They most likely need Hellebuyck to be the all-world goalie he often is (but hasn’t always been against Edmonton).

Will the Jets get the most from their best players?

This hasn’t been the kindest season to the Winnipeg Jets’ best players. Maybe the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs could provide a springboard for a rebound?

You could say that it started when Patrik Laine was traded. The Jets didn’t match the John Tortorella drama of Columbus, but then again, who could? It was still fair to wonder why that didn’t work out, and if Paul Maurice & Co. were maximizing players’ potential.

(So far, Pierre-Luc Dubois has been … fine. His underlying metrics are middle-of-the-road, and his production’s unspectacular [20 points in 40 games].)

There’s also only so much the Jets can do about Nikolaj Ehlers, whose injury status is unclear. It would certainly be great to get him back, as Ehlers has transformed from someone us nerds thought was really good, to someone just about anyone realized is quite special.

Heading into this series with the Oilers, the Jets’ other top players have experienced drama.

Back in February, Paul Maurice got flustered by analytics-driven critics of Blake Wheeler.

Oh, and speaking of Torts, Maurice also benched Mark Scheifele in a Tortorella-like way.

From a casual perspective, the Jets might match up with the Oilers in a best-on-best way. Maybe Scheifele, Wheeler, and others just get hotter than McDavid, Draisaitl and their teammates? Perhaps Hellebuyck makes up the rest?

But, if you go by this season, it’s tempting to pin hopes on depth players swinging thing. (But mostly Hellebuyck.)

Two impressive special teams units — especially Edmonton’s power play

If there’s one area where both the Jets and Oilers should be confident, its their power-play proficiency.

With a 28.1-percent success rate as of May 13, the Oilers comfortably topped the NHL. The Jets were spry in that area, too, though, popping at a 23.1-percent rate.

Neither penalty kill unit was dominant, but both stood as solid enough this season.

Overall, the Jets might be more keen on this series being low on penalties than the Oilers. But it’s possible that one or both units could swing games, if not the series as a whole.

One big question for Edmonton: Sorry Mike Smith, it’s goaltending

To reiterate: Mike Smith has been fantastic this season. Shockingly so. By most measures, Smith enjoyed a better regular season than Connor Hellebuyck.

But Smith is also 39, and really struggled in both 2019-20 and 2018-19.

While Smith remained in Wednesday’s game, he also got dinged up in a meaningless game for Edmonton.

Now: goaltending is less of a question for Edmonton that it seemed to be coming into 2020-21. Credit the Oilers for believing in Smith when many thought he might be long in the tooth. On paper, the Oilers have some serious advantages (their defense is better than a shabby Jets group), and Hellebuyck could very well outplay Smith to a difference-making degree.

One big question for Winnipeg: Are they falling apart?

If it weren’t for the Canadiens also stumbling down the stretch, the Jets might have slipped the fourth spot in the North Division.

For about two-and-a-half seasons, the Jets have been sporting the underlying metrics of a team that could easily miss the playoffs. The difference has been that Connor Hellebuyck’s been fantastic, and their top players have been able to outscore their problems.

After managing that balancing act remarkably well for some time, it’s been a scary fall lately. (Maybe Nikolaj Ehlers was the secret sauce? The Jets’ struggles amplified without Ehlers.)

Despite these setbacks, it’s not that difficult to picture the Jets putting it together enough for a run. There’s still some significant talent on this roster. They just haven’t inspired a lot of confidence lately.

Jets – Oilers series prediction: Oilers in six

Ask around among hockey fans, and people can poke holes in even the best North Division teams. Yes, the Maple Leafs look great, but … have you followed them? Bad things happen to them during the playoffs.

So, it’s easy to dismiss the Oilers, especially if you believe that they don’t have much beyond McDavid and Draisaitl.

While they’re not as deep as the deepest teams in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, this is a more versatile and polished Edmonton group than we’ve seen since McDavid landed. The Jets are underdogs, and some might not even pick them to win two games against the Oilers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.