EDMONTON — The biggest story heading into Game 7 of this Western Conference quarter-final is the story on which we have the least information to relay.
Will 50-goal, 100-point man Leon Draisaitl play Saturday for the Edmonton Oilers, after injuring what appeared to be his right ankle on a Game 6 slew foot courtesy Los Angeles Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson?
The short answer is: Who knows?
In a word salad of an answer after Saturday’s morning skate, Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said, and we’ll paraphrase, “I’m not telling you.”
Asked about his running mate, Oilers captain Connor McDavid took the fifth: “I don’t want to talk about that at this time.”
Across the way, the Kings classy centre Anze Kopitar smiled as he predicted a full Oilers lineup.
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any secret that those two are gonna play a lot of minutes tonight,” he said.
If Draisaitl can skate at all, they’ll use him in his triggerman spot on the power play and to take faceoffs. He injured the ankle at the end of Period 1 in Game 6 and still went 10-5 in the circle.
Draisaitl did not take the morning skate, and could very possibly be unable to play at all. But if he can take draws and work the power play, we would play Devin Shore to take over for Draisaitl on the penalty kill. Meanwhile Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — who killed more than half of the Kings’ 6:10 of PP time in Game 6, while going 11-2 in the circle in 22 minutes of work — will be asked to give Woodcroft another Yeomen’s effort, with Draisaitl on the limp.
On Game 7
Kopitar is among a group of Kings veterans who have played four Game 7’s since 2013, winning all four. The more of these you’ve taken part in, it seems, the more you realize that you can’t foresee everything that is going to happen in a pressure-packed game in front of a packed arena.
“It’s not always nice to have that (experience) in your back pocket, but every game is a new game,” he said. “So, sure, this one’s going to have a few wrinkles in it. You go and you play the game as hard as you can and see what the outcome is.”
McDavid has only played one — a 2-1 loss in Round 2 at Anaheim in 2017. But he has played in front of some loud houses here in Edmonton, a rabid hockey town that will be prepping for this Game 7 beginning in the early afternoon.
“If you’re a guy that feeds off the crowd’s energy, then use it. If you’re a guy that likes to keep a little more quiet in your head then quiet it down,” said McDavid.
Really? Quiet down 18,500 screaming fans and an energy level that will surpass anything either team has seen all season long?
Is that even an option?
“You certainly hear it, that’s for sure,” McDavid agreed. “But ultimately we’ve played thousands and thousands of hockey games before. We’ve played games in front of no fans in here before, and we’ve played games in front of packed houses. So, you know, it’s just hockey. You’ve still got to make your plays and play the game.”
Everyone on each team is pumped for this experience. History tells us that you do not know what’s going to happen tonight, but whatever it is, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
“This building is going to be great,” said veteran defenceman Olli Maata said. “It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Obviously, it is big game. Do or die. There's definitely going to be some nerves, and I think that’s a good thing. That means you care.”
The Kings have won two of the three games at Rogers Place thus far, don’t forget.
“It’s a little hostile in a way, but it’s loud. It’s fun,” Maata said of Rogers Place. “Everybody wants to play those games, and you don’t need any extra motivation. There’s always that little bit of excitement, nervousness that gets you going. I think that’s been good for us and that we want.”
Using Your Head
Darnell Nurse comes back into the Oilers lineup after missing Game 6 on a one-game suspension for head butting Phillip Danault in the face.
It was a tough, hard, dirty play, for which Nurse served his penance. If you hated that play, you should hate the Anderson slew foot as well, a more sublime bit of trickery that was certainly more injurious.
Personally, we’ll chalk them both up to the intensity of playoff hockey, and how emotions sometimes take players over the line.
“I hit a guy with my head. There was no intent on my part, but the Department of Player Safety, they made their call and you respect that,” said Nurse, who watched Game 6 on TV and liked what he saw.
“We just played a real good, composed game,” the Oilers assistant captain said. “There are the ebbs and flows of a game, ups and downs, and our team just stuck to our game. That’s a good sign, but … now it’s a whole other test in front of us.”