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BLOG: Real Deal ready for hockey's return

James Neal has competed in nine consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs and would love to make it 10 in a row with the Oilers this summer

by Ryan Frankson / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - James Neal has competed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs nine seasons in a row and would love to make it 10 this summer if the NHL's Return To Play Plan comes to fruition.

The Oilers winger checked in with Bob Stauffer on Tuesday's episode of Oilers Now from his off-season home in Nashville, expressing his disappointment with not being able to embark on a true playoff run in his first year with Edmonton, but also his optimism over what could be in store over the next few months.

"Our group grew as the year went on and we continued to get better and better," said the 32-year-old forward, who finished the regular season with 19 goals and 12 assists in 55 games.

"I was really excited for the playoffs. I wanted to see Oil Country come alive. I knew how crazy they would get come playoffs, so it's disappointing we won't be able to see that, but with everything that's gone on we're just trying to make the best of it and see if we can get some playoffs going here."

Video: REWIND 19-20 | James Neal

Per the Return To Play Plan, the Oilers would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the best-of-five Qualifying Round, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which will revert back to best-of-seven matchups.

Special teams will no doubt be pivotal in the post-season, and the Oilers were far and away the best power-play team in the NHL at 29.5%. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, ranked 28th at 15.2%.

Nearly two-thirds of Neal's goals this season came on the PP as he lit the lamp a dozen times while complementing a lethal man-advantage corps that includes Art Ross Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Video: NYR@EDM: Neal earns second hat trick of season

He also became the first player to score eight power-play goals in the month of October since Jaromir Jagr in 2005 as the Oilers were scoring on about one-third of their PP opportunities for the first two months of the season.

"Those guys showed right from the start of the year how good the power play was ticking," said Neal, who's been training and skating in Music City. "You just try to get the puck to them as much as you can, and they're going to make the right play nine out of 10 times. It was great to be a part of that and hopefully when we get going we can get off to the same start."

Edmonton's penalty killing was second in the League at 84.4%, while Chicago was tied for eighth at 82.1%. The Oilers combined 113.9 PP-plus-PK percentage was the second-best mark in NHL history, trailing only the 1977-78 New York Islanders at 114.9%.

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