“It’s just that time of year,” is as much as Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft let on about the status of Leon Draisaitl ahead of Game 7 between the Oilers and Kings at Rogers Place on Saturday.
Despite helping extend the series with timely contributions on the scoresheet, Edmonton’s hulking German scoring machine is clearly labouring and left Game 6 for a brief period after a vicious takedown from Kings’ defenceman Mikey Anderson.
“I know what I saw. Probably the same thing you did,” Woodcroft said.
Draisaitl was held out of Saturday’s morning skate, as was defenceman Brett Kulak for precautionary reasons.
Edmonton is 6-4 all-time in Game 7s and Saturday will mark the first time since 1990 the Oilers will host a deciding game. Los Angeles is 7-4 all-time, including a 5-3 road record.
“We realize that the challenge before us is complex, but we think we’re up for it,” Woodcroft said. “We have a strong faith in ourselves and we have a clear understanding of what makes us a good team and we want to play toward that identity.”
Managing emotions promises to be a big part of Edmonton’s task, with 18,500-plus expected inside Rogers Place once again.
“If you’re a guy that feeds off the crowd’s energy, then use it,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “If you’re a guy that likes to keep it quieter in your head then quiet it down. It’s going to be loud. We absolutely love our fans.”
“We think it’s a privilege to play for our fanbase and to be a proud Canadian franchise, and we’re excited about the opportunity to win a game here on home ice,” Woodcroft said.
Darnell Nurse is back after serving his one-game suspension for head-butting Kings centre Philip Danault in the second period of Game 5
“I didn’t intend to hit a guy with my head, but the Department of Player Safety made their call and I respect that,” Nurse said.
Nurse, McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all skated in the last Game 7 in which Edmonton participated, in the second round of the 2017 playoffs against Anaheim. The Oilers lost 2-1 that night and haven’t made it back to the second round since.
Edmonton finished five points ahead of Los Angeles in the Pacific Division standings and boast the NHL’s leading post-season scorer in Connor McDavid, whose nine assists and 12 points are pacing the field.
As far as what’s left to game plan for after six consecutive meetings, Woodcroft says “it’s almost like you know what they eat for breakfast, so your preparation is really at the granular level.”
“Our approach is just like any other day. There’s a lot on the line, but by the same token it’s just hockey,” Nurse said. “We’ve played with our lives on the line in Game 6 and this one is no different.”
The winner of this series will move on to face the winner of the Calgary and Dallas opening-round matchup.
Pre-game coverage on 630 CHED starts at 6 p.m. Puck drop from Rogers Place will follow at 8:00 p.m. MT.
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