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

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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 match between Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid as the NHL’s Western Conference Finals kick off with Game 1 on Tuesday.

At least MacKinnon hopes so. But it has nothing to do with defeating McDavid.

“Hopefully that [storyline] gets more viewers and lowers the escrow [for players]but other than that, I don’t care,” MacKinnon said Monday. “I don’t really think about it [McDavid] quite a lot, but obviously I see the stuff. I think he’s the best, I said so. I think he’s been the best for a while now and it will take a full team effort to stop him.”

MacKinnon’s cheeky comment — a reference to the NHL’s revenue-sharing structure, where more money goes to the league means fewer player salaries are returned — at least addressed McDavid directly.

When asked about MacKinnon in turn, the Oilers captain dodged and mentioned 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 have some really good players and they’re really good all around.”

It was a valiant effort from both players, but no amount of downplaying will take away the upcoming “wow” factor.

It’s rare for two strong offensive teams like the Avalanche and the Oilers to meet in the later rounds of the postseason when they’re also in the playoff field with average goals per game (4.33 for the Avalanche, 4.30 for the Oilers) on and go off

High profile performances from top players like MacKinnon and Cale Makar in Colorado and McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton are key to continuing this scoring momentum as all four have been great this postseason.

McDavid and Draisaitl have carried the Oilers forward as they share the team lead with 26 points; MacKinnon and Makar are tied for the Avalanche lead with 13 points each.

Makar has solidified himself as the Avalanche’s back-end anchor and will see plenty of McDavid in the upcoming series. The Norris Trophy finalist also takes on MacKinnon in practice. He knows that the challenge each player presents on the ice is unique.

“There are a lot of similarities between MacKinnon and McDavid,” Makar said. “But at the same time, they are very different styles of play. McDavid is very good and very fast and he has the fast steps right at the beginning. They are both such electric players and McDavid has been the driving force for them as well as their other top guys. It will be a good test but we are all excited.”

What McDavid has produced in the postseason — including multipoint outings in 10 of 12 games for the Oilers so far — would be enough to shake any opposing goaltender. Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper accepts the assignment with ease.

“It sure is a fun challenge,” he said. “He is an electrifying, dynamic player. And every time he’s on the ice, he develops something new. As Cale said, there are similarities between their games, but at the same time they are different players. It’s a fun challenge. They want to play against the best players in the world and I’m looking forward to it.”

And that means none of what Draisaitl has done with McDavid at the shotgun, including two four-assist appearances in Edmonton’s last two games of his second-round series against Calgary.

That’s a lot for any opponent to take. But across the board, Colorado tends to slow Edmonton.

“I think we’re just excited,” Makar said. “Obviously this is a place [in the conference final] that I personally have never been. But we have a lot of people on our team who have experience with it, which is good. I think we’re just looking forward to getting started.”

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