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Nathan MacKinnon downplays matchup with Connor McDavid, calls Edmonton Oilers star 'the best'

DENVER -- All eyes will be on the superstar matchup of Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton's Connor McDavid when the NHL's Western Conference finals open with Game 1 on Tuesday.

At least, that's what MacKinnon is hoping for. But it's got nothing to do with besting McDavid.

"Hopefully, that [storyline] gets more viewers and lowers escrow [for players], but other than that I don't care," MacKinnon said Monday. "I'm not really thinking about [McDavid] a whole lot, but obviously I see that stuff. I think he's the best, I've said it. I think he's been the best for a little bit now and it's going to take a full team effort to stop him."

MacKinnon's cheeky comment -- a reference to the NHL's revenue sharing structure where more money coming in for the league means less coming back off players' salaries -- at least addressed McDavid head-on.

When asked in turn about MacKinnon, the Oilers captain sidestepped mentioning him all together.

"They're a good team over there," McDavid said. "I've learned that over the last couple of years. This year is no different. They've got some real good players and they're really good all around."

It was a valiant effort by both players, but no amount of downplaying will remove the pending "wow" factor ahead.

It's rare for two powerhouse offensive teams like the Avalanche and Oilers to meet in later rounds of the postseason, when they're also pacing the playoff field in average goals-per-game (4.33 for the Avalanche, 4.30 for the Oilers).

High-level performances from top players like MacKinnon and Cale Makar in Colorado and McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton are key to that scoring momentum continuing, as all four have been terrific in the postseason thus far.

McDavid and Draisaitl have carried the Oilers up front as they're tied for the team lead in points at 26; MacKinnon and Makar are knotted for the Avalanche lead with 13 points each.

Makar is solidified as the Avalanche's anchor on the back end and will see plenty of McDavid in the series to come. The Norris Trophy finalist also goes toe-to-toe with MacKinnon in practice. He knows the challenge each player presents on the ice is unique.

"There's a lot of similarities between MacKinnon and McDavid," Makar said. "But at the same time, they're very different playing styles. McDavid's very good off the rush and very fast and he's got the quick steps right at the beginning. They're both such electric players and McDavid's been the driving force for them as well as their other their other top guys. He'll be a good test, but we're all excited."

What McDavid's produced in the postseason -- including multipoint outings in 10 of 12 games for the Oilers thus far -- would be enough to rattle any opposing goaltender. Colorado's Darcy Kuemper is taking the assignment in stride.

"It's a fun challenge for sure," he said. "He's an electric, dynamic player. And he's creating every time he's on ice. Like Cale said, there's similarities between their games but at the same time, they're different players. It's a fun challenge. You want to face the best players in the world and looking forward to it."

And that's to say nothing of what Draisaitl has done riding shotgun with McDavid, including two four-assist performances in Edmonton's final two games of its second-round series against Calgary.

It's a lot to take in for any opponent. But across the board, Colorado is leaning into slowing Edmonton down.

"I think we're just excited," Makar said. "Obviously, this is a place [in the conference final] that personally I've never been before. But we have a lot of guys on our team that have experience with this, which is good. So I think we're just excited to get going."