Second-round preview: Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Ryan Kesler will be keeping close tabs on Connor McDavid. Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Anaheim Ducks (46-23-13, first in Pacific Division) vs. Edmonton Oilers (47-26-9, second in Pacific Division)


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. By the slimmest of margins, experience and home ice will be the difference. Ducks in 7.