Family, pressure, opportunity: Oilers and Avalanche step into a new spotlight

Frank Seravalli and Carly Agro discuss the Western Conference Final matchup pitting Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon against each other, if it's the marquee matchup of the series, and other players to keep an eye on.

DENVER — This is a special series for the Manson family, with father Dave on the Edmonton Oilers bench as an assistant coach and Josh manning the blue line with the Colorado Avalanche.

Dave got to spend some quality time with his son and granddaughter on Monday after the Oilers wrapped up practice.

“They played a bunch and she was all over them, so it was great,” said Josh. “(It) made me happy too.”

Josh doesn’t have a lot of memories from his time in Edmonton.

“No, no I don’t remember Edmonton. I remember some spots throughout my dad’s career, but Edmonton was a little too early on,” said Josh. “I think he was telling me he got traded to Edmonton right after I was born, so I was a little too young to remember being around.”

Josh was asked if his two-year old knew anything about hockey and if she would be rooting for daddy or grandpa in this series?

“Well she better be pulling for me,” said Josh. “She does love her grandpa but I think she better be pulling for me or we’ll have words.”

Dave Mason played 1,103 NHL games and amassed 2,792 penalty minutes to go along with his 102 goals and 390 points and was known as one of the toughest players in the league.

Josh has a physical component to his game, but hasn’t taken nearly as many trips to the sin bin as his dad.

Manson has been a solid addition to the Avalanche defence corps after he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks and he’ll be counted on this round to try and help stymie some of the Oilers’ offensive weapons.

Josh scored the overtime winner in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues in Round 2 and he’s added four assists for five points through 10 games in the playoffs.

There are some similar qualities that father and son share when it comes to their style of play, but that’s a tough comparison for Josh to make.

“I’m not sure. I watched some games but when I watched games I didn’t study them well enough. I just heard from other people the way he played,” said Josh. “I think he was somebody that defended hard in front of his own net and that’s something I try to take in my own game. Like you said, in 2022, it’s a little bit different. The way he defended, I think we skate very similar, I’ve heard. But just trying to play that hard-nosed, tough-to-play-against style of game that he did so extremely well back in the day.”

Although Josh and Dave don’t plan to be trading secrets this round, the lines of communication will remain open — they won’t stop chatting to one another until the series is over.

“Oh no. Family comes first. That’s been my dad’s motto always,” said Josh. “I think it’s different because he’s behind the bench. He’s not on the ice, right? That makes things a lot different. But family comes first so we’ll talk and communicate but we never really, we talk hockey but it’s never about each other’s teams or personal things. So, I think the relationship doesn’t need to change. He’ll be there for me and I’ll be there to talk to him about whatever. I don’t think there’ll be no lines crossed. We’ll keep our secrets to ourselves but we’ll still have that good relationship.”

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When you play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s like dogs years where playoff pressure is concerned. One angst-filled spring spent in Toronto is like three spent anywhere else.

Edmonton’s Zach Hyman and Colorado’s Nazem Kadri are in the midst of their sixth and seventh playoff runs respectively, yet neither won a round until they joined their current club.

“Just a great person,” Hyman said of Kadri. “I’m good friends with him.”

Is it easier to win elsewhere?

“I think it’s easier to be calm as you win playoff rounds and as you get closer to your goal,” answered the thoughtful Toronto native Hyman. “In Toronto we didn’t win, so things escalate. If we didn’t win in Edmonton or if they didn’t win in Colorado, same scenario. It would be a lost season. You’d have that pressure mounting for the following year.”

It’s the oldest conclusion in sports, isn’t it?

“Winning solves everything,” said Hyman. “Neither team (in this series) is satisfied with where they are, at the same time, there are four teams left. So each team left has a real opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, right?

“In Toronto, things compound. It’s a passionate market and they obviously haven’t gotten out of the first round, so it adds up.”

Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen didn’t seem all that concerned by the fact he’s managed only one empty-net goal through 10 games in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Naturally, his focus is on team success but he feels like the quality of the chances are there and that if he continues to get those chances, he’s bound to break out.

While he’s managed 24 shots on goal so far, the underlying numbers support Rantanen’s theory, as eight of the 16 shots on goal he’s had at even strength have been classified as high-danger chances.

For a guy who led the Avalanche with 36 goals and 92 points in 70 games, both he and the team will be hoping he is right.

But it’s not like Rantanen hasn’t contributed as he is tied for third in team scoring with captain Gabriel Landeskog with 11 points.

Based on the morning skate, it also looks like Rantanen is going to be reunited on the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Landeskog after spending part of the second round skating alongside Kadri and either Valeri Nichushkin or Artturi Lehkonen.

“I think I’m building in the right direction. Just hasn’t been going in,” said Rantanen. “This is the wrong time of the year to think about your personal stuff, so I’m just playing for the team and doing everything I can to help us win and just play as hard as you can.

“I think it goes that way for every player. I just have to get one and it gets a lot easier. But yeah, I’ve been getting a lot of chances, just got to bear down and find a way to get it past the goalie. But I try not to think about it too much. Just try to keep doing what I’m doing and as long as you’re creating chances, you know eventually it’s going to go in and help the team.”

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Tyson Barrie first saw Colorado defenceman Cale Makar when the Avs called Makar up during the 2019 playoffs. Makar stepped into his first-ever NHL action and had 1-5-6 in 10 playoff games.

“I knew I was in trouble right when I got in the ice with him the first morning,” laughed Barrie, a Colorado teammate back then. “I thought ‘I’m going to be out of here.’ He was exceptional. You could see the way he skated and moved the puck.”

Barrie was indeed moved out in the ensuing summer, alongside Alex Kerfoot and various parts, in a trade that sent Kadri to Denver. To this day, Kadri leases the house that Barrie owns here.

And Makar is a Norris Trophy finalist.

“To come into that series against Calgary (in ’19) and be taking guys one-on-one,” marvelled Barrie. “In his first NHL game he scored within his first couple of shifts. I’m not surprised to see how dominant he’s been. It’s super-impressive to see what he’s doing. We’re going to have a heck of a time trying to slow him down.”

The best defenceman this hockey writer’s eyes have ever seen work laterally on the offensive blue line was the great Sergei Zubov, back in his days manning the Dallas Stars’ power play. Makar is undoubtedly of the same pedigree — not something we would say lightly.

“He’s a special player. Someone you have to have an awareness, or be alert, when he’s on the on the ice,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “But for me, their team is littered — littered — with really good hockey players. We would be remiss if we only focused on one of them. We have a deep respect for his game and what he can do. But we’re game planning for the Avalanche, not just Cale Makar.”

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Here are your lines, with both clubs expected to start Rd. 3 the way they finished Rd. 2.

Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl / McDavid / Kane

Hyman / Nugent-Hopkins / Puljujarvi

Foegele / McLeod / Yamamoto

Archibald / Ryan / Kassian

Nurse / Ceci

Keith / Bouchard

Kulak / Barrie

Smith

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Colorado Avalanche

Landeskog / MacKinnon / Rantanen

Nichushkin / Kadri / Lehkonen

Burakovsky / Compher / Kubel

Cogliano / Helm / O’Connor

Toews / Makar

J. Johnson / Manson

Byram / E. Johnson

Kuemper

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