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NHL

The West Is More Than MacKinnon Vs. McDavid, But That’s Plenty

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 09: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles against Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche during the second period at Rogers Place on April 9, 2022 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have tried very hard to give the customers what they think they want, but until now it’s been kind of a half-in-half-out proposition. It gave us Penguins-Rangers going three overtimes on Day 2 but a meager list of 11 overtime games afterward that averaged less than seven minutes apiece. It promised us the first great Battle of The Everglades but gave us a sweep by Dad (Tampa) over the kids (Florida). It promised us the first great Battle Of Alberta in 31 years but the series lasted only five games after a gloriously sloppy 9-6 opener. It gave us the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it also gave us the Leafs disintegrating in the first round (you can decide which of those is the thing people wanted).

Thus, Colorado-Edmonton in the Western Conference may be the Cup’s last chance to get it truly right this year. Nathan MacKinnon vs. Connor McDavid for the best-player-on-earth crown presented each year by internet dullards. Gabriel Landeskog vs. Leon Draisaitl for the best adjutant. Mikko Rantanen vs. Zach Hyman for the best guy you weren’t planning to notice but will be forced to. The largely regarded best team in the game vs. the team that was supposed to have been the best team in the game since they drafted McDavid seven years ago. Jared Bednar vs. Jay Woodcroft in the coaching battle you never thought you’d ever think about. Mike Smith vs. Mike Smith. If this doesn’t go seven games and with multiple overtimes, we’ll have been cheated.

Compared to the Eastern Conference final, in which Tampa Bay, trying to win its third Cup in three years, takes on the New York Rangers, seeking to win their third Cup since the start of World War II, the West is the jewel looking for a crown. The Lightning are like watching a snake eat: it isn’t much fun except for the detachable jaw part. In addition, they’re all excited for the return of Brayden Point, whose core temperature never rises above 63 degrees. And the Rangers are Igor Shesterkin eating more shots than any other goalie by more than 100 and Chris Kreider waiting for a defenseman to pinch too aggressively.

Edmonton is the plucky overachiever that fired its coach midway through the season because the Oilers were just being the Oilers, in 10th place and barely ahead of Vancouver and San Jose. Colorado is the scary underachiever who hasn’t reached this postseason level in 20 years.

But never mind that. You who don’t watch much hockey because you think that still arguing about why Andre Iguodala was named 2015 NBA Finals MVP is more fun just want to know about MacKinnon and McDavid. You want to watch them on the ice every minute there is ice upon which to play, and you want to be irrationally angry for every second of the 38 minutes per game that they aren’t playing. You want to know what all this fuss about and you’ve been told that these guys can explain it to you without a single word exchanged.

It won’t be that simple, to be honest. They both play a third of the game because asking more is asking too much, so you’ll have to do the thing you hate doing the most: pay attention. Don’t worry too much about missing it, though; TNT will ram MacKinnon-McDavid down your pieholes with bathroom plungers. This time, though, the network can be forgiven for its dogged pursuit of the painfully obvious. This is the Cup’s biggest and last best moment this season. Other than that, there’s no pressure. All you have to lose is a summer full of no World Cup.