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PRE-GAME REPORT: Oilers vs. Blackhawks (Game 1)

Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl lead the Oilers in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier versus the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

The Edmonton Oilers open their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday at Rogers Place.

You can watch the game on Sportsnet or listen on the Oilers Radio Network, including 630 CHED.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Pre-Game 1 vs CHI 07.31.20

INSIDE THE OILERS

News and notes from the Oilers dressing room after Thursday's practice and media avail, including a look at Kailer Yamamoto and Edmonton's preparedness heading into their first playoff berth since 2016-17.

>> READ MORE IN THE INSIDE THE OILERS BLOG

PRE-GAME REPORT

EDMONTON, AB - In the name of Lord Stanley, let there be hockey.

Four long months have passed and just one sleep remains until the Edmonton Oilers begin their bid for the 2020 Stanley Cup in what will be the franchise's 22nd post-season appearance.

The Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks' best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier promises to captivate. 

Not only because the hockey world yearns for meaningful action but also because the series will pit the game's last dynasty against an Oilers franchise fixated on attaining hockey's ultimate glory through the power vested in its two best players.

Legends are born in the National Hockey League Playoffs. Blackhawks superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who hoisted the grail three times in their careers, can attest. 

Led by Connor McDavid and NHL scoring champion Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton's time could be now. Fielding the media for the last time before the puck officially drops on Game 1, Oilers skaters let their quest for the Cup be known.

"As a team, our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup," forward Zack Kassian, sporting playoff mutton chops, said. "There's only one player on our team that's accomplished that.

"Therefore, it makes our entire team hungry."

Since Day 1, the Oilers made it their goal to become a playoff contender. Driven by the performances of their key leadership cast - featuring McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and Kassian - Head Coach Dave Tippett believes this could be his club's arrival.

"Our leadership group has been excellent throughout the year," said the Oilers coach. "They recognize that this is a unique situation and we're going to have to earn our way to be a playoff team."

Video: PRE-GAME RAW | Kassian, McDavid, Nurse

WELCOME TO THE DANCE

Edmonton's post-season experience pales in comparison to Chicago's, who reigned atop hockey's apex in 2010, '13 and '15 and have been perennial challengers for the better part of the last decade.

The Orange & Blue have 379 combined playoff games played, a stark contrast to the Blackhawks. Toews, Kane, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith and Brandon Saad, alone, have 540. Fuelling the Oilers, however, is the opportunity to become something great.

"We're hungry to prove to ourselves that we're capable of being in this position and capable of playing at this level of hockey," Defenceman Darnell Nurse said. 

"We know what we're capable of in this room."

Although a few members of the Oilers will make their playoff debuts, there are veterans in the room capable of serving as a guide to post-season puck. Three seasons ago, the Oilers were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals in '16-17 with a core that's largely still intact.

Inexperienced Oilers seeking pre-game advice can also look to James Neal, who encountered back-to-back runs to the Cup Final in 2017 and '18 or Alex Chiasson, who beat out Neal's Golden Knights with the Washington Capitals to win it all.

"Our team likes each other and they compete hard," Tippett said. 

"All in all, we've talked about building a team that is going to be competitive, not just in the high-end skill part but competitive in winning."

LINEUP NOTES

No Oilers missed pre-game skate on Friday and Head Coach Tippett said all players are available for Saturday's Game 1, including Riley Sheahan and Caleb Jones. The two missed a few skates earlier in the week but have been cleared to play.

In goal, Tippett did not disclose which netminder would start.

"As far as the goaltenders go, there's an old hockey movie called Slap Shot where somebody walks up to Paul Newman and asks him how his power play is and all he said was, 'We're working on it,'" said Tippett.

"That's my answer for the goaltenders. We're working on it."

Now dust off the jersey, grab some popcorn and let the games begin.

-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com

Video: HUB | Hockey Eve

PREVIEW

OILERS (37-25-9) vs BLACKHAWKS (32-30-8)

TV: 1:08 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet

Head-to-Head:

The Oilers fell short in two visits to the United Center in 2019-20, yet both losses came at the tail end of road trips. Chicago snapped the Oilers flawless 5-0-0 season start, 3-1, on Oct. 14, then weathered Edmonton's late storm with a one-goal 4-3 win on March 5.

In the only meeting at Rogers Place, Draisaitl collected one goal and three helpers en route to a 5-3 victory on Feb. 11.

Draisaitl topped all skaters in points over the three-game season series, scoring one goal and six assists. The German has seven goals and 17 points in 15 career games against the 'Hawks.

Chicago kept McDavid off the scoresheet in the two outings he appeared in but the Oilers Captain has two goals and 10 points in 11 career matches.

Goalie Mike Smith is 12-11-1 with a .909 S% and .310 GAA vs. CHI in his career.

Kane collected two goals and two assists against Edmonton this season while Toews (2G, 1A), Brandon Saad (2G, 1A) and Adam Boqvist (1G,2A) had three points apiece.

Kane has 18 goals and 56 points in 43 career outings vs. Edmonton, while Toews has 19 goals and 42 points.

Crawford stopped 48 of 52 shots in two outings against EDM in '19-20, registering a goals-against average of 2.01 and .923 save percentage. The netminder is 11-7-0 in 20 career appearances versus the Oilers, tagged with a .911 S%, 2.47 GAA and one shutout.

Post-Season Head-to-Head

The Oilers and Blackhawks have met four times in the NHL playoffs ('83, '85, '90, '92), with Edmonton winning three of the four matchups. This is the first time that the two organizations won't be meeting in the Western Conference Finals. 

The Oilers are 12-8 all-time in the post-season versus Chicago. After sweeping the 'Hawks 4-0 in '83, Edmonton erupted offensively when the two clubs met again in the '85 West Final. The Orange & Blue outscored the Blackhawks 44-25, establishing the NHL record for most goals by one team in a Stanley Cup Playoff series. In their last post-season affair in 1992, Chicago mopped Edmonton 4-0.

Video: THE PANEL | Let The Games Begin

By the Numbers:

The Oilers went 3-for-7 (43%) on the power play against CHI during the season and a perfect 8-for-8 on the penalty kill. ... Draisaitl led the NHL in power-play points with 44 while McDavid was second with 43. ... EDM went 10-10-3 when tied after the 1st period this season. ... The club went 15-13 in one-goal games. ... The Oilers enter the series with the top-ranked power play (29.5 %) and second-best penalty kill (84.4%).

Kane & Toews have 233 combined playoff points. ... Kane is near a point-per-game average in the playoffs, notching 50 goals and 123 points in 127 post-season contests. ... Rookie Dominik Kubalik scored 30 goals on 157 shots for a 19.1 shooting percentage in '19-20. ... Chicago went 12-8-3 when facing the Pacific Division this season. ... The Blackhawks scored 78 goals in the 3rd period this year but also allowed 82 against in the same frame. ... Chicago enters the post-season 28th on the man advantage (15.2%) and ninth shorthanded (82.1%).

Injury Report:

OILERS - No injuries to report.

BLACKHAWKS - Connor Murphy (groin) is day-to-day.

-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com

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