Oilers, Stars enter Western Conference Final with different strengths, motivations

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid talks about being excited for the challenge the Dallas Stars will bring in the Western Conference Final.

DALLAS — You like to think that if you’re patient enough, if you put yourself in a position to win often enough, that eventually it will be your turn. So, let’s attempt to define “often enough,” shall we?

For the Edmonton Oilers, that means two Western Finals in three seasons, and consecutive playoff losses to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. It’s the accepted route to success, the journeys chartered by Tampa and Colorado.

But then you come here to Dallas, and you look across the ice at Ryan Suter and his 1,444 NHL regular-season games played — with no Stanley Cup. And you see Joe Pavelski, who has played and lost in two Cup Finals, and chugged through an incredible seven Conference Finals in a legendary career spanning 1,332 games.

There’s Matt Duchene (1,056 games), and Jamie Benn (1,112 games), rounding the group of four veterans that don’t have a Stanley Cup ring.

So here’s the question: Can anyone want to win a Cup more than these guys?

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“It’s a great question,” began Jamie Benn, who paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “You know, everybody wants to win. And everybody plays this game to win a Stanley Cup. We’ve got more than a few guys here with over 1,000 games that haven’t done that yet. That’s our motivation.

“They want to win, but so do we. That’s what’s going to be great about this series: we’ll find out who wants it more.”

Who wants it more.

It’s the most subjective line in hockey, as if one guy willing to put his ankle in front of an Evan Bouchard slap shot wants it any more or less than the guy who is ready to try to hold position in the slot against Chris Tanev.

In hockey, they say, one of the challenges is to match your opponent’s desperation level. When you are leading a series 3-2, to muster up the same energy that the opponent — whose season is on the line — brings to the game.

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Leon Draisaitl is 28, with less than half of Suter’s games played (719). But don’t make the mistake of thinking that he somehow defers to the Suters and Pavelskis of the world, just because they’ve taken this long to claim what he sees as his.

How bad does the leading scorer in these NHL playoffs want to win this thing?

“Really, really badly. But that would be the same for pretty much every player,” Draisaitl said, upon arriving in Dallas Wednesday afternoon. “We all love hockey, we all love competing in these moments, and the ultimate prize is the Stanley Cup.

“There are four teams left so we’ve done a good job so far. But you know how they’ve got guys that want to win it really badly?” he said. “I can tell you that we’ve got guys who want to win it really badly too.”

This Oilers-Stars series is a battle of high-end scorers versus goals by committee. Of a five-man defence versus Edmonton’s six.

Of a goalie in Jake Oettinger who has established himself, versus Stuart Skinner, who is perhaps one successful playoff round away from doing the same.

It’s today’s brightest stars on Edmonton, who have the top four highest scorers in the playoffs thus far, against a Dallas team with a healthy mix of tomorrow’s stars (Wyatt Johnston, Jason Robertson, Logan Stankoven), a world class defenceman in Miro Heiskanen, and some of the aforementioned Methuselahs who have been around long enough to say that if they could handle Nik Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne and Joe Sakic, these Oilers can’t be so bad.

“It’s the only reason I’m playing,” Suter said of his Cup pursuit. “My kids, they’re at the age now where I want to spend more time with them. Be a part of their hockey, other sports, school or whatever. If you don’t (win it), I don’t think it defines you as a player. But that’s why I’m playing.”

Then there’s Connor McDavid, who knows well that he won’t get to take his place among the Mt. Rushmore of Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky until he hoists Big Stanley. That means getting past a Stars team whose depth and goaltending have made them perhaps the favourite here.

He’ll tell you, his Oilers are as ready as they’re going to be, in their eight playoff series in the past three years.

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“Well we’ve certainly been in different situations,” McDavid began. “Whether it’s holding leads, (needing to) come back… Whatever the situation we’ve been in it over the last couple of years, we’ve definitely grown through that experience. We’re definitely a more mature group.”

Mature and in their prime in Edmonton? Meet very mature, with some fantastic young players who might just breathe life into those old Stars to take them over the top.

It’s a matchup of two clubs with two different sets of strengths.

And perhaps a different idea of what it means, as Benn says, to “Want it more.”

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