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Oilers tired of hearing about regular-season losses to Canucks


EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers are sick and tired of hearing about it. They don’t want to be asked anymore about it.

They know full well that the Vancouver Canucks swept the four games between the two teams in the regular season. They also know from experience that regular-season results mean nothing during the playoffs.

Yet, the Oilers can’t shake the narrative heading into their Western Conference second-round series against the Canucks, which begins Wednesday in Vancouver.

“I don’t know how much more we need to talk about this,” said Leon Draisaitl, who was dominant in the Oilers first-round series win over the Los Angeles Kings. He had 10 points and was also a major part of the penalty-killing unit that didn’t allow a goal in five games.

“We’re going into Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. We don’t care about what happened in the regular season. And I bet you that they don’t either, as much as you think. We’re a different team now. It’s going to be tight-checking, with two really good teams going at it. The team that plays better hockey will win.”

Draisaitl referred to the fact that three of those Canucks wins over Edmonton — including a season-opening 8-1 demolition — came very early in the season, when the Oilers were undergoing a crisis that eventually cost former coach Jay Woodcroft his job.

The Oilers started the season 3-9-1 under Woodcroft. After coach Kris Knoblauch took over, the team went 46-18-5.

“It is old, for sure,” Oilers defenceman Vincent Desharnais said of the season-series talk. “It’s been so long. People keep asking about it … Those first three games were, like, six or seven months ago. We’re a different team. And, at the end of the day, whatever happened in the regular season doesn’t mean anything.

“The most important part is the first game on Wednesday, the rest doesn’t matter.”

Core players like Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and defenceman Darnell Nurse know the “regular season doesn’t mean anything” mantra all too well. Back in 2020-21, they were on the other side of this discussion, with the Oilers winning seven of nine regular-season games against the Winnipeg Jets, including all six final matchups, only to be swept by the Jets in the first round of the playoffs.

The Canucks-Oilers series is a de facto Canadian NHL championship, as the winner will be the final team standing from north of the border.

“It’s exciting,” said Draisaitl, comparing it to the Oilers’ playoff series win over the Calgary Flames two seasons ago.

"The Battle of Alberta was great, it was a lot of fun to be part of. I’m sure this series will write its own story. We’re ready.”

The Oilers will have had a full week off by the time the second round starts on Wednesday, providing extra time for forwards Adam Henrique and Evander Kane to recover from whatever has been keeping them away from the ice. Both players missed Monday’s practice, but Knoblauch expects both to be skating Tuesday.

“We are hopeful they are available for Game 1,” said Knoblauch.

If one or both of them can’t go, Knoblauch was noncommittal about how he may have to shuffle the lineup. Henrique played the first round as a winger on the top line with McDavid and Zach Hyman, while Kane moved up to the second unit to play with Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“We got a lot of guys who can fill in that spot,” said Knoblauch of the potential vacancy on McDavid's line. Mattias Janmark played there in practice.

“I don’t think there’s one guy who can play there and do it all, but I think we can maybe do it by committee. Different guys, different situations. We also have the opportunity of Zach Hyman playing left wing, if we need someone else to play right wing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.