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SEATTLE — Umpire Jim Wolf was pulled for precautionary reasons during the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game between the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners after taking a foul ball off his facemask.

Wolf was checked by the rest of his umpire crew and a member of the Mariners athletic training staff between the top and bottom of the fifth inning. Wolf was hit by the foul ball in the top half of the inning. After discussion, first base umpire Ryan Blakney went into the clubhouse to put on protective gear and Wolf left the field.

The game continued after a delay of about 10 minutes with just three umpires. Seattle led 2-0 at the time of the change.

Wolf has been a full-time umpire in the majors since 2004.

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‘It’s 100 all day long’: How Paul Skenes is turning every start into a must-watch event

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'It's 100 all day long': How Paul Skenes is turning every start into a must-watch event

The first time Chicago Cubs outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong was on the same field as Pittsburgh Pirates rookie pitcher Paul Skenes, their roles were reversed.

The two were playing together on the United States 12U national team, in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 2014, well before Skenes would become baseball’s biggest pitching phenom. Crow-Armstrong pitched in the tournament, but Skenes never took the mound.

“He was a scrawny catcher,” Crow-Armstrong recalled with a smirk. “I took home the lowest ERA in the tournament, but he’s the No.1 pick.

“I guess things changed.”

Over the first 10 innings of Skenes’ major league career, Crow-Armstrong and the Cubs got a firsthand view at just how much.

The No.1 overall pick from last summer’s loaded MLB draft has wowed the baseball world with his mound presence and electric stuff, throwing 29 pitches at 100 mph or faster — already the most by any starter this season. Just two starts into his big league career, Skenes’ outings have become must-watch events.

“Watching him is like looking at your odometer on the autobahn,” one rival scout said. “It’s 100 all day long.”

In his first major league start on May 11, Skenes said he didn’t really feel like himself. Perhaps it was due to all the hype leading up to the day or just the nerves that come with a major league debut, but the tall right-hander gave up three runs on six hits and two walks in four innings at home against the Cubs. Six days later, in his first road start, Skenes showed what all the hype was about.

“It’s not an easy game to play but it’s a lot easier when you have fastball command and command over your pitches,” Skenes told ESPN after his second game. “It wasn’t necessarily working in my debut, but it was working this time.”

Skenes struck out the first seven batters he faced. He finished the day with 11 strikeouts over six hitless innings, setting a franchise mark for the most K’s by a Pirates pitcher at Wrigley Field, one of the game’s most iconic venues.

“It’s frickin’ Wrigley Field,” Skenes said. “It was sweet.”

Any thought that the Cubs would have an advantage seeing the same pitcher within a week were erased with every eye-popping pitch. Skenes averaged an incredible 99.3 mph on his fastball, 94.8 on his splitter, 86.8 on his change, 84 on his slider and 80 on his curve.

Mike Tauchman was among the many Cubs hitters who couldn’t catch up to Skenes’ stuff. Chicago’s DH struck out three times, including a swing-and-miss on a 100-mph fastball that marked the end of Skenes’ day in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“The fastball command was good,” Tauchman said. “And then he was able to tunnel that splitter/sinker — or whatever he calls it — off of it. And throw those all competitively. When you’re dealing with someone with that velocity and command, and they make you make split-second decisions — he did a good job.”

That combination pitch is called a splinker (though officially tracked as a splitter by MLB Statcast), and the new wrinkle in Skenes’ repertoire is threatening to make the already-daunting task of facing the sport’s best young pitcher downright unfair.

“It tunnels well off his fastball. It has enough of a similar look off his hand,” Tauchman said. “It has more run and drop than his fastball does.”

Skenes mostly stuck to his fastball/splinker combo, mixing in enough of his other pitches to keep the Cubs guessing and showing what separates him in an era full of hard-throwing, young pitchers.

“That’s what attracted us to him,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “His ability with the pitch mix. You can look up and see 101 mph and get excited about it. The fact that he can spin the ball behind in the count, you don’t see guys come out of college a year ago that have the ability to do that.”

After managing two weakly hit groundouts against his former teammate, Crow-Armstrong offered his takeaways for the next teams to face Skenes.

“Being able to limit the top for him or limit the bottom is going to be very important because his stuff plays really well at both levels,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Anything that runs 18 inches at 100 mph is pretty tough.”

Skenes said his phone blew up after the dominant performance, but admitted “that’s been the norm for a while now” since he entered the spotlight while leading LSU to the College World Series title. One of the first people Skenes heard from after the outing at Wrigley was Ryan Theriot, a former LSU and Cubs infielder. The pitcher’s performance reminded Theriot of a former Chicago strikeout artist.

“I know the [Stephen] Strasburg comps, but I feel like it’s more like Kerry Wood in his prime,” Theriot said in a phone interview. “Just the demeanor. I’m not talking about the stuff. I’m talking about the attitude and the demeanor.”

That attitude is why the Pirates are confident he can handle the pressure of being a budding face of the franchise at such a young age. It helps that before transferring at LSU, Skenes attended the Air Force Academy and spent two years as an aspiring cadet.

“You definitely have to be able to handle stuff if you go to the Air Force,” Skenes said. “That taught me how to not care too much about struggling and about staying steady.”

From a somewhat rocky first start to a dazzling follow-up performance that has the whole baseball world watching, that mindset is already paying off for MLB’s newest ace.

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A complete timeline of Colorado’s tumultuous offseason

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A complete timeline of Colorado's tumultuous offseason

Moments after Colorado‘s once-promising season sputtered to a close with a 23-17 loss at Utah in November, coach Deion Sanders took about a minute to reflect on some of the positives his team showed in the game. Even with his son, star quarterback Shedeur Sanders, sidelined with an injury, he said the Buffs played well. But he also wasted no time turning the page. After a last-place Pac-12 finish in his debut season at Colorado, it made no sense to dwell on the team’s on-field performance.

“It’s time to start projecting and start thinking about the tomorrow already,” Sanders said.

With that, Sanders got back to doing what he has proven effective at: generating hype.

“We already know what’s going to transpire, you’re gonna be pleased with what’s coming. I promise you that,” Sanders said. “But everything you see that we have a lack thereof — a deficit — we’re gonna fill that need.”

As he did when he arrived, Sanders made it clear Colorado was, again, going to seek help in the transfer portal in the pursuit of one clear goal.

“We want to win now.”

Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy moments of Colorado’s offseason as Coach Prime’s tenure remains one of the most captivating stories in all of sports.

Dec. 5: Sanders arrived to Colorado in late 2022 as a bona fide celebrity — one of the greatest athletes in American history — taking the reins at a downtrodden program. He leaned heavily into making Colorado as visible as possible. Everything, it seemed, was on camera.

But after a whole year of that constant visibility, it seemed to become a dynamic that wasn’t always positive, he told People Magazine.

“You always wish that you had a little more privacy,” he said, “but the same thing that makes you shine will show your blemishes.

“So you’ve got to take the good with the bad. You can’t just want everyone there when the hype machine is rolling, you have to understand there’s another side to this.”


Dec. 20: As Deion alluded to in the Utah press conference, Colorado had glaring holes it needed to fill and almost immediately took steps to shore up a porous offensive line that allowed Shedeur to become one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the country. Colorado welcomed 20 new players in the early transfer window, including six offensive lineman: OT Kahlil Benson, Indiana; OG Justin Mayers, UTEP; C Yakiri Walker, UConn; OG Tyler Johnson, Houston; OT Phillip Houston, FIU; including a big grab in five-star HS recruit OT Jordan Seaton.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Sanders said, “All these kids have been starters. They’re not backups. They weren’t lower-level players. They were starters in Power 5. And they know darn well they’ve got a first-round pick — maybe the first kid in the whole draft — that they’re protecting. That means something to them.”


Dec. 30: Shortly after getting through the early signing day, staff changes started. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly left the program to serve as the co-defensive coordinator at Auburn, his alma mater. Kelly’s departure meant that both of Sanders’ initial coordinators would not be back for a second season. OC Sean Lewis, who was stripped of playcalling duties during the season, was hired as San Diego State‘s head coach.


Jan. 16: A little more than a year after Coach Prime delivered the famous line at his team meeting — “I’m bringing my luggage with me, and it’s Louis” — some of that proverbial luggage (his sons, Shilo and Shedeur) walked in an actual Louis Vuitton fashion show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.


Jan. 27: Not even two weeks later, a video was published by Well Off Media — the YouTube channel operated by the oldest Sanders son, Deion Jr. — with a headline: DEION SANDERS’ SONS ARE BUYING HIM A NEW HOME IN COLORADO. It shows the family touring an exquisite property roughly 18 miles from Folsom Field, outside of nearby Golden, Colorado.

Four months later, however, that property is still listed for sale by the listing agent.


Feb. 3: Professor Prime? At least for a day. Sanders served as a guest lecturer to talk about the football program’s social media strategy, among other topics, alongside Sanders Jr. — known better as Bucky — for a class called Prime Time: Public Performance and Leadership.


Feb. 9: Former Cincinnati Bengals secondary coach Robert Livingston was hired as the defensive coordinator and Pat Shurmur, who took over playcalling duties from Lewis, was confirmed as the permanent OC. Colorado also announced Phil Loadholt as the OL coach and Jason Phillips as the receivers coach.


Feb. 20: Smack in the middle of a recruiting dead period, Sanders was announced as an owner of the sports nutrition company REDCON1.

In a press release announcing the deal, the company said, “Coach Prime will drive REDCON1’s expansion directly, especially within the sports nutrition and performance beverage sectors. His creativity and expertise are derived from his personal experiences and success in sports, which will play a pivotal role in continued product innovation and enhancing the brand’s visibility.”


March 12: Sanders’ second book — “Elevate and Dominate: 21 Ways to Win On and Off the Field,” written with Don Yaeger — was released as an instant New York Times bestseller. It was accompanied by a four-stop book tour.


April 1: Months after Sanders said it was going to happen, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp joined the program as a graduate assistant. Athletic director Rick George signed off on the hire, which drew criticism in light of Sapp’s past that saw him get fired by the NFL Network following his arrest for assaulting and soliciting a prostitute during Super Bowl weekend in 2015.

“Warren Sapp successfully completed all of the necessary steps required of anyone who is employed at CU Boulder, including a background check,” Colorado said in a statement. “Furthermore, athletic director Rick George personally met with Warren to clearly articulate the department’s standards and expectations, to which he acknowledged and agreed.”


April 10: Well Off Media took fans behind the scenes as Shedeur attended an in-person lecture for the first time.

During the video he jokingly said, “You know how long it’s been since I’ve been to an in-person class? Like five years.”


April 16: When the spring transfer portal window opened, several prominent players announced they would be leaving Colorado, including former five-star recruit Cormani McClain, lead rusher Dylan Edwards and two other backs, Alton McCaskill and Sy’veon Wilkerson.


April 20: On his YouTube channel, McClain took a pointed shot at the Colorado program.

“Some people just gotta take a step back from things sometimes, certain people, you know,” McClain said. “I feel like I just don’t want to play for clicks. I actually want to be involved with a great leading program that’s going to develop players.”

He would later transfer to Florida.


April 27: Colorado fans set a high bar when they sold out Folsom Field for the 2023 spring game and while this year’s version wasn’t quite the spectacle, it still drew a respectable crowd of 28,424 despite inclement weather. The game was part of a day that later featured a Lil Wayne concert.


May 1: After a story in The Athletic was published that detailed how former Buffaloes players fared after many were run off following the arrival of Sanders, a series of back-and-forth trash talk ensued, including tweets from Shedeur and Deion.

The coach took aim at one relatively anonymous FCS player from Austin Peay.

He later told Thee Pregame Show, “I gotta do better on that and not ride with it, but I was bored. I was bored, and I didn’t say nothing hurtful. I don’t attack people.”


May 8: As Shedeur preps for an important final season of college football in which he’s in the conversation to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in next spring’s NFL draft, he also found time to drop his first song, “Perfect Timing.”


May 16: Two-way star Travis Hunter was revealed as one of the three cover stars, alongside Michigan‘s Donovan Edwards and TexasQuinn Ewers, for the rebirth of EA Sports College Football 25.


May 20: The Coach Prime effect continues to pay off for Colorado’s ticket department. For the second straight year, the Buffs have sold out their season tickets, something the school had not done since 1996. And prior to 2023, the school had never sold out its season tickets before August.

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Stanley Cup playoffs conference finals preview: Goalie confidence, key players, storylines

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Stanley Cup playoffs conference finals preview: Goalie confidence, key players, storylines

Sixteen NHL teams qualified for the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. But with two rounds complete, the field is down to the final four competitors.

Each team brings a unique set of narratives to the conference finals round — both on and off the ice.

Here’s everything you need to know about the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers.

How they got here: Defeated Lightning 4-1, Bruins 4-2
Playoff takeaways

Goalie confidence rating: 8/10

Sergei Bobrovsky has improved throughout the playoffs. That’s excellent news for Florida as it faces perhaps its toughest offensive challenge yet in the high-flying, high-scoring New York Rangers.

The Panthers’ netminder is a solid 8-3 in the postseason, with a .902 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average. Bobrovsky was fine in the first round but hit a real stride in the second round. The Bruins didn’t test Bobrovsky often, and he had to be sharp when they did; for the most part, he has come through when Florida has needed him.

Bobrovsky’s 22-save performance in Game 6 to close out Boston was some of his finest work, which should have him feeling in tip-top shape ahead of this conference finals bout.

What we’ve learned about the Panthers so far

Florida is impressively multifaceted, and there isn’t one area where the Panthers are truly deficient. They’ve averaged the most goals per game among Eastern Conference playoff teams (3.55), they are stingy defensively (allowing 2.45 goals per game and only 24.1 shots on net) and they have solid special teams (with a 22% power play and 86.1% penalty kill).

Most importantly, though, Florida is balanced. The Panthers’ stars have contributed as expected, with Carter Verhaeghe (six goals and 11 points), Matthew Tkachuk (four goals and 14 points) and Aleksander Barkov (five goals and 13 points) excelling. Florida’s depth skaters have made their mark, from Evan Rodrigues (three goals and six points) to Anton Lundell (two goals and nine points). The Panthers have benefitted from timely scoring from the back end, too — Gustav Forsling netting the game-winner in Game 6 against Boston was especially notable — and Brandon Montour (three goals and eight points) has been superb.

The Panthers have enviable depth and an all-around game on which to lean.

Players who will be key to this series

New York is the Eastern Conference’s second-highest-scoring offense in the postseason (averaging 3.50 goals per game), right behind Florida, so Bobrovsky being at his best is critical for the Panthers. Bobrovsky wasn’t overly taxed by Boston (a difficulty because most goalies prefer a busier workload), and the Rangers project to do the exact opposite by peppering the Panthers’ goalie at 5-on-5 and with their excellent power play.

Matching New York’s potential attack falls on the Panthers’ top-six skaters, but Tkachuk and Sam Bennett should be particularly engaged with their grittiness to get under the Rangers’ skin. Florida doesn’t want to be in a track meet opposite a lineup like New York’s, and setting a tone with some physicality and pressure — while holding the Rangers to the outside and away from those juicy rush chances — is an ideal recipe for Florida to follow. New York isn’t throwing many hits in the postseason (13th overall in that category) so the Panthers can use their feistier forwards to their advantage.

Player who needs to step up

Make no mistake, Sam Reinhart has been solid in the playoffs, with five goals and nine points through 11 games. But this is a series where he can shine. Reinhart had a tremendous regular season, scoring 57 goals and 94 points (including four goals in the regular-season series against New York). He just hasn’t been lighting up the scoresheet as often in the playoffs, with only two goals in six games against Boston (and one four-assist performance).

It just feels like there’s more Reinhart can give, particularly on special teams, where he has just two points. The margins for victory become smaller the deeper a team goes, and Reinhart has the ability to break things open for Florida. The Rangers have been heavily star-driven in the playoffs, and it’s how they’ve arrived in the conference finals. Florida’s depth has been a significant asset, but at this juncture, a true standout like Reinhart can make the series-defining difference.

Can Florida’s power play match New York’s?

The Panthers didn’t have consistent success against Boston’s terrific penalty kill (minus a four-goal outburst with the man advantage in Game 3). Florida was 0-for-7 with the extra man in Games 5 and 6, two contests decided by a single goal. Meanwhile, New York’s power play has been a decisive factor in its success throughout the playoffs, and it has gotten the Rangers through some tightly contested battles.

Florida can’t afford to let many power-play opportunities slip away.That won’t be easy, given the Rangers’ penalty kill is excellent at 89.5%. There’s little doubt Florida has the talent to make more noise on the man advantage, with seven players scoring there so far — it’s just a matter of breaking through New York’s defenses.

If the Panthers can put some doubt in the Rangers on that front early in the series, it would be a confidence-booster. If Florida can’t, there will be nail-biting outcomes in the future.


How they got here: Defeated Capitals 4-0, Hurricanes 4-2
Playoff takeaways

Goalie confidence rating: 9.5/10

Igor Shesterkin is arguably New York’s postseason MVP. The Rangers’ netminder has the playoff field’s best record (8-2), a .923 SV% and a 2.40 GAA. At almost no point has New York had to make up for errors on his end.

Shesterkin has been an absolute difference-maker for the Rangers — that brilliant stop on Andrei Svechnikov in the waning minutes of Game 6 of their second-round series against Carolina was a jaw-dropper — and he has been markedly consistent, with a .910 or better SV% in 80% of the Rangers’ postseason games.

It’s no exaggeration to say the Rangers’ hopes of reaching a Stanley Cup Final — and winning it all — hinge heavily on Shesterkin continuing to be the Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender he has been since the first round began.

What we’ve learned about the Rangers so far

The Rangers haven’t strayed much from what made them this season’s Presidents’ Trophy winners. New York boasts an elite power play (at 31.4%) that almost overcompensates for their average 5-on-5 scoring (they have just 20 even-strength goals through 10 postseason games).

New York’s overall success has come through its top talents, from Shesterkin’s goaltending to elite performances from Mika Zibanejad (three goals and 14 points), Vincent Trocheck (six goals and 14 points) and Chris Kreider (seven goals and 10 points). The Rangers haven’t relied on their depth to make a difference, and while that hasn’t hurt them (much) to date, it is something they could look to improve on against Florida.

Defensively, New York doesn’t make it easy on Shesterkin — the Rangers allow 32.5 shots on net per game — but they shouldn’t take their goaltending for granted. The Panthers can quickly make them pay for any sloppiness.

Players who will be key to this series

Shesterkin is essential to New York’s hopes of getting past Florida. Yes, the Panthers have also leaned on their goaltending at times, but Shesterkin is an intimidating presence in the crease and provides the confidence New York needs to play the back-and-forth style that leads to those open scoring opportunities (but also makes the Rangers vulnerable defensively).

Beyond Shesterkin, this is a series where Trocheck can continue to have a major impact. He has been the Rangers’ most productive skater on the power play (with eight points), and they will continue to rely on that potent man-advantage unit to carry them through another round. Trocheck has also been one of New York’s stronger contributors at 5-on-5; helping bolster the Rangers there will be critical, especially when the series inevitably gets tighter.

Player who needs to step up

Artemi Panarin cooled off in the second round after a dominant start to the postseason. There’s no time like the present for Panarin to turn those jets back on (so to speak).

Panarin has zero goals and two assists in New York’s past three games, but he also leads the Rangers overall in playoff game-winners (four). His 11 total points show he is more than capable of avenging his past postseason demons (just two assists in seven games last year) by keeping his incredible regular-season showing (49 goals and 120 points) at the forefront of this playoff push.

While the second round saw Panarin in a lull of sorts, he can make up for lost time in this series. Florida’s lineup is packed with scoring potential, and New York’s ability to match it will determine who advances. Panarin should be ready to answer that bell.

Can New York’s defense hold up — and lock down?

Fun fact: Carolina outshot the Rangers in all six of their second-round games. Washington outshot New York in two of their four first-round games. Despite a solid group of blueliners, New York has been channeling some “fake it till you make it” energy on the back end (and Shesterkin playing lights-out is a big reason that hasn’t ruined the Rangers’ playoff run).

Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren have faced New York’s hardest postseason matchups while being outshot 72-53 but not outscored (the Rangers have a goal edge of 4-3) at even strength. But that’s a delicate tightrope to walk; New York could be one bad game from Shesterkin away from losing their handle on a series.

Improving defensively falls not only on the Rangers’ blueliners but their forwards as well. Run-and-gun might suffice in the regular season, and having a potent power play is great. Full-team buy-in is better, and that’s the question mark for New York heading into the conference finals. Can the Rangers do the little things well enough that the big ones fall more easily into place?


How they got here: Defeated Golden Knights 4-3, Avalanche 4-2
Playoff takeaways

Goalie confidence rating: 10/10

Jake Oettinger has done more than just help the Stars reach the conference finals. He’s presenting one of the stronger Conn Smythe cases this postseason.

Back in the 2022 playoffs, the Stars were ousted in the first round, but Oettinger was arguably the biggest reason they pushed the series to seven games. His performances created the belief that if the Stars could somehow bolster their roster, they might be able to pose a serious problem. That time has arrived, and Oettinger has played a significant role.

What we’ve learned about the Stars so far

They might be the most adaptable team in this year’s playoffs. Face the defending Stanley Cup champs in the first round? Spot them a 2-0 series lead, playing into a narrative in which Dallas had lost nine of 11 meetings? No problem. Advance to the second round and build a three-goal lead in Game 1, only to give up four unanswered in overtime? Yeah, the Stars found a way to overcome that too.

The Stars have faced the two most recent Cup champions — whose rosters featured All-Stars such as Jack Eichel, Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Alex Pietrangelo — and still won. Now they’re going against Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. If they need to take on some of the NHL’s best players to prove they are the NHL’s best team, so be it.

Player who will be key to this series

Miro Heiskanen is averaging more than 28 minutes per game, with some of his performances going longer than the run time of a sitcom. He leads his team in points. He’s at the controls of a power play that is scoring nearly 30% of the time. The years of trust he has gained allow him to be matched up against some of the NHL’s best players on a nightly basis. And he is only 24.

Ever since Heiskanen debuted in the 2018-19 season, the discussion centered on how high his ceiling would be if he ever found a level of offensive consistency that could come anywhere close to matching what he does on the defensive end. What he did in the 2022-23 season provided a glimpse. What he has done during the 2024 playoffs could land the Stars a Stanley Cup.

Player who needs to step up

Joe Pavelski ranks 37th in career playoff points, and he has 74 goals in 195 postseason contests. That’s what makes the fact that he has one goal and three points in 13 games this year so jarring.

Pavelski plays the sort of game that’s built to succeed, in that he relies on his intelligence and positioning to either get goals or be in a place that allows his teammates to get goals. His defensive contributions have played a part in why he’s averaging more than 18 minutes per game. But if Pavelski can start generating more on the scoresheet, it would make an already deep Stars attack even deeper.

Will it be five the hard way or the joy of six for the Stars on the back end?

The success of their five-player defensive structure — coupled with Oettinger being in goal — has allowed goal prevention to be a key facet of the Stars’ success. But as they get further along, can they continue to largely play five defensemen instead of six?

Prior to Game 6 against the Avalanche, the Stars relied heavily on Thomas Harley, Esa Lindell, Ryan Suter, Chris Tanev and Heiskanen, while Nils Lundkvist averaged 4:27 in ice time in 12 games. The Stars turned to veteran Alex Petrovic, who logged more than 16 minutes in their double-overtime win. Even if part of Petrovic’s workload increased because of overtime, it’s still more ice time than what Lundkvist has received at any point in these playoffs. The last time Lundkvist received more than 16 minutes in a single game came back in January.

The Oilers will certainly make the Stars work on defense. Dallas’ blue-line rotation will be a critical strategic point to watch as the series gets rolling.


How they got here: Defeated Kings 4-1, Canucks 4-3
Playoff takeaways

Goalie confidence rating: 8/10

For every setback, there has been a comeback. That has been the narrative surrounding Stuart Skinner throughout his professional career. It also describes how he managed to come back from being pulled in Game 3 of the Oilers’ second-round series and benched in Games 4 and 5 before returning to help the Oilers close out the series.

What Skinner provided in those final two games was a goaltender who stopped shots within an Oilers defensive framework that takes away scoring chances and high-danger shots, whether it’s in 5-on-5 sequences or in short-handed situations. If the Oilers can get that version of Skinner against the Stars, it could see them take the next step toward reaching their ultimate destination.

What we’ve learned about the Oilers so far

Goal prevention is just as much a priority for the Oilers as goal creation. One of the looming questions facing the Oilers over the past few years was whether they could find consistency within their defensive structure. It’s a question they have continually answered since they moved on from Jay Woodcroft and hired Kris Knoblauch as head coach, which led to the addition of Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey to the Oilers’ coaching staff. The arrival of Knoblauch and Coffey has since turned the Oilers into a team that can both create and solve problems in either end of the ice.

Maybe the strongest example of that progress has come during the playoffs. In the first round, the Kings went from scoring nine goals in the first two games to scoring a total of four goals over the next three. The same applies to the Canucks, who went from scoring 11 goals in the first three games to eight goals for the final four games of the series.

Player who will be key to this series

There are several reasons to highlight Leon Draisaitl when it comes to why this could be the Oilers’ year to win the Cup. One of them came in the final minutes of Game 7, when Draisaitl was one of the Oilers’ most active players on the defensive end. His investment into being aggressive on the forecheck played a part in Canucks’ struggles to get settled in an attempt to find a game-tying goal. Draisaitl’s stick was constantly moving to disrupt passes or provide some sort of additional obstacle.

So much can be said about his defensive abilities before getting to the fact that he’s one of the game’s most dangerous players on the offensive end — he leads all playoff scorers, with 24 points in 12 games — reinforcing why he might be the most important Oiler, if not the most important player in this series.

Player who needs to step up

Dylan Holloway has used the past few games to show that he is making an impact. He started Game 7 on the second line and has recorded a goal and two points over his past two games.

Receiving those sorts of contributions from Holloway is key for a couple reasons. It stems from the expectation of being a first-round pick in an organization that has found success with others taken in the opening round. The Oilers must also find ways to get as much secondary and tertiary offense as possible. In a big series (and potentially a Stanley Cup Final), Holloway can take positive career strides as the Oilers make a push to stay among the top Cup contenders.

What happens if Connor McDavid starts consistently scoring again?

It’s not like McDavid hasn’t been busy. He has created goals for others while anchoring the Oilers’ top line and also driving a power-play unit that at one point was converting at a rate of 50% this postseason. This is what makes McDavid a perpetual threat who requires everyone’s attention.

But the fact that he’s scored only two goals through 12 postseason games raises two questions: What does it say that the Oilers can get this far without needing McDavid to score in bunches? And how terrifying could the Oilers be if McDavid starts consistently scoring again and continues to create for those around him?

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