Why you have to watch: Ryan Kesler versus Connor McDavid? Come on, you know that’s worth the price of admission and then some: a Selke Trophy candidate trying to shut down (and get under the skin of) the Oilers’ franchise superstar sophomore who was the league’s leading scorer. … The Oilers, in the postseason for the first time in 11 years, got a crash course in playoff hockey and passed with flying colors in their first-round matchup against the San Jose Sharks in a series that pitted a veteran, playoff-savvy team versus a youthful team on the rise. The Oilers told you everything you needed to know about them after getting blown out 7-0 in Game 4 to the Sharks and then winning the next two games to finish off the series. They’re here now, and they’re for real. … But the Ducks, who edged the Oilers by a mere two points for the Pacific Division title, are the hottest team in hockey, unbeaten in regulation in their last 18 games (15-0-3), which includes their four-game sweep of the Calgary Flames in the opening round. This is a team that was one win away from the Cup finals two years ago and has big plans for this spring after a first-round exit last year.
Head to head: The Ducks were 2-1-2 against the Oilers in the regular season, with Edmonton winning the last game 3-2 in overtime April 1 in Edmonton; Anaheim won 4-3 at home on March 22. … Of note, however, is that Jonathan Bernier was in net when the Ducks won March 22. John Gibson’s last win against the Oilers dates back to Nov. 15. … For a second series in a row, the Oilers are pitted against a deeply experienced team; the Ducks’ 18 playoff wins over the past three years ranks second only to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference during that span.
Injury fallout: Top D Cam Fowler hasn’t played since April 4 because of a knee injury. He appears on the mend, practicing with his teammates Sunday. He should be back at some point in Round 2. … Another top-four defenseman, Sami Vatanen, missed the final three games of the series with the Flames because of an upper-body injury. He didn’t skate Sunday, but the expectation is that he could be ready for Game 1. … The same goes for top-four blueliner Hampus Lindholm, who left late in Game 4 in Calgary with an undisclosed injury. He should be ready to go. … No notable injuries for the Oilers, although coach Todd McLellan mentioned Saturday night after Game 6 in San Jose how the flu bug had done a number on some of his players.
Goalie advantage: Cam Talbot of the Oilers got hammered in that 7-0 Game 4 loss but otherwise was outstanding against the Sharks, outplaying Martin Jones while posting two shutouts and was a major difference-maker in Edmonton winning. … Similarly, Gibson was pulled from Game 3 in Calgary but otherwise was very solid in the series sweep. It’s a really close matchup: Talbot posted a .927 save percentage in Round 1, versus Gibson’s .926. But overall, the slight nod here goes to Talbot.
Coaching advantage: For McLellan, no doubt it’s nice to turn the page on what must have been an emotional first-round series against his former team, the Sharks. He won’t have to deal with that distraction now. … You can’t say enough about how McLellan has transformed the Oilers from where they were two years ago. The Oilers are such a better defensive team with better work habits, which is a total culture change. He’s made them into a real contender. … Ducks coach Randy Carlyle is on his second tour of duty in Anaheim and took over a team that was incredibly disappointed to lose in the first round a year ago. This club is in win-now mode, and he’s got them looking like a Cup contender once again. Look for Carlyle to aggressively chase the Kesler-versus-McDavid matchup, even when in Edmonton without the last line change.
Prediction: McDavid was limited to one even-strength point (his empty-net goal capped the series) and yet the Oilers found a way to beat the Sharks — which tells you how far they have come as a team, and it’s not just about what their Hart Trophy candidate does night in and night out. It’s a team with depth and commitment. … The Ducks have tremendous depth themselves, both on the blue line and up front, and they’ve been riding high for well over a month. … This is toss-up of a series; it’s going all the way.
Courtesy of Pierre LeBrun
ESPN Senior Writer