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Leon Draisaitl's Playoff Brilliance Can't Be Ignored

After setting an NHL record for assists in a single playoff series, Leon Draisaitl has shown that an ankle sprain can't keep him down. And, in a sense, his excellence has been overshadowed in a way.

Connor McDavid’s overtime winner will go down as one of the greatest moments in Edmonton Oilers playoff history, and rightfully so. 

One of hockey’s greatest rivalries, on one of the biggest stages, with Canada watching in suspense. As McDavid receives the pass from Draisaitl against the boards and shoots it glove side past Markstrom and sending Edmonton to their first Western Conference finals since 2006.

With that assist, Draisaitl set a new NHL record for assists in a single playoff series, totalling 15 throughout the series against the Flames. He surpassed Oiler legend Wayne Gretzky who had 14 in the 1984-85 Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, who they defeated on route to their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

How was it that Draisaitl was able to fly under the radar?

All eyes were on Edmonton’s captain going into this series with Calgary. McDavid was leading the Oilers in points, and the Flames were looking for a way to slow him down.

For most of the series, Calgary’s top priority was to stop him from scoring but failed to do so through the first four games. Following their Game 3 loss, Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said, “yeah, we've let one guy beat us a few nights now, so just back to the drawing board and figure out a way to stop him.”

And with that being the Flames mentality, Draisaitl was able to thrive in the shadow of McDavid.

A career year, Leon was second on the Oilers in points with 110 and scored a team and career-high 55 goals across 80 games during the regular season.

Yet, his impact during the Battle of Alberta was highly underrated and unnoticed. Following Game 5, when asked if the better team won the series, Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said, “The best player won the series for ‘em.”

The leading point scorer throughout the series happened to be Draisaitl, whose 17 points were the most amongst both teams. Scoring a goal and two assists in games 1 and 2, he had four assists in Game 3, another three assists in Game 4, followed by a second four-assist night in Game 5.

Draisaitl's goal-scoring credibility had been criticized throughout the series. He was held to two goals, the complete opposite of what he demonstrated during the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs, where he scored five goals against the Los Angeles Kings.

He stepped aside and gave way to the newcomers, Evander Kane, who's leading the Oilers in playoff scoring and Zach Hyman, the only Oiler in franchise history to score in each game in a playoff series.

There was also plenty of speculation that the Oilers forward was going into this series injured after apparently suffering a high ankle sprain in Game 6 of the first round. But despite all that, it didn’t stop him from putting up points for Edmonton.

It shouldn't come as a surprise. Draisaitl's been a nightmare for the Flames over his career, totalling 49 points in 38 games. In four games this season against Calgary, he had five goals and six assists, his highest point total against any team.

Edmonton will now face the Colorado Avalanche for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. Following their Game 5 victory, Draisaitl said in an interview that the Oilers don't care who they face in the next round, and the team knows what they are capable of accomplishing. The Avalanche will be a challenge, but, again, we're talking about McDavid and Draisaitl here.

You can try your best to shut down McDavid, but the chances of keeping Draisaitl off the score sheet are unlikely. 



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