Canucks-Oilers Game 7 playoff preview: X factors, predictions

Evander Kane interrupts crowd's sing along to pile onto Edmonton's lead (0:38)

Evander Kane turns the crowd's rendition of "Livin' on a Prayer" to cheers with a goal to make it 5-1 Edmonton. (0:38)

It has all come down to this. The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers have fought to a tie through six games in a battle for Western Canadian supremacy.

Game 7 (Monday night at 9 ET, ESPN) will determine which team moves on to face the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals, and which team is headed to the golf course.

Which players will play an outsized role for each team Monday night, and who wins?

Who is the one player you'll be watching for the Canucks?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Elias Pettersson. Let's go back to February. The Canucks went 10-3 for the month, and Pettersson was a massive reason for that success. He scored 14 goals, which added to the belief that he and the Canucks could pose a problem in the playoffs. Since then, he has struggled to find offensive consistency, but he does have points in the past two games.

He has provided the defensive reliability that justifies why he continues to earn high minutes, and the potential is still there for him to create and score goals. It's not that the Canucks need Pettersson to score to win games. But if he can add another layer to what he has already done, it could play a monumental role in the Canucks reaching the Western Conference finals.

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: J.T. Miller. If Miller's line can again limit Connor McDavid -- which it excelled at doing in Game 5 -- his club sports a much greater chance of pulling off the victory at home. A key goal from the heart-and-soul player of this Vancouver squad would also go a long way. The Canucks' regular-season scoring leader has a pair of tallies thus far this series, including the deciding third-period goal in their 3-2 victory in Game 5 at Rogers Arena.

Arda Öcal, NHL broadcaster: Arturs Silovs. He has been terrific and fun to watch this postseason. Game 6 wasn't his best (five goals on 27 shots), and this is the biggest game of his career. Will he rise to the challenge? He certainly has so far in filling in after two Canucks goalies have fallen to injury. A victory against Edmonton would grow the Silovs legend exponentially.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Dakota Joshua. The Canucks won't have Brock Boeser in Game 7, and that ups the ante for every other forward to produce (Boeser leads Vancouver with 12 points in 12 postseason games).

Joshua heard it from J.T. Miller in Game 6 as emotions boiled over for the Canucks. Game 7 is a chance for Joshua to show he not only got the message, but is capable of contributing even more up front. Edmonton's stars will be pressing, and the Canucks need their top six to respond in kind. Joshua has four goals and eight points through 12 games -- this is a moment for him to truly help fill the void in a series in which the pendulum swings have been massive.

If it's going back in Vancouver's direction, Joshua best be part of the solution.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Quinn Hughes. We haven't seen a definitive moment for Hughes in this series, unless you count getting slashed open by Connor McDavid's high stick in Game 2 as such a moment. Only two goals have been scored with Hughes on the ice at 5-on-5 in this series, one for Vancouver and one for Edmonton. He was even through six games against the Nashville Predators as well (three goals for and against).

Game 7 provides the expected Norris Trophy winner with a grand stage for a statement game, especially in a series in which another great young defensemen -- Evan Bouchard of the Oilers -- has made the much greater impact.

Who is the one player you'll be watching for the Oilers?

Clark: Stuart Skinner. What stands before Skinner is a chance to have a defining performance. A win adds to the belief that Skinner might be capable of helping the Oilers win a title. A loss could potentially lead to more hypotheticals and questions about whether Skinner is the answer in net long term.

Perhaps that's too much to place on one person. But this is also the reality of the Oilers. They've seen teams such as the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights win Stanley Cups. They now have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals for the second time in three years, seeking to become the third straight Western team to win it all.

Matiash: Leon Draisaitl. I'll go with the figure who just joined Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in rounding out the trio of fastest players to reach 100 career playoff points. The same clutch skater who has registered at least one point in every postseason contest so far, averaging a league-leading 2.09 points per game. Unless the Canucks can somewhat stifle Edmonton's "other" superstar, we're likely in for an Oilers-Stars conference finals.

Öcal: Connor McDavid. "Gee, thanks Arda. Are you in commercials, because you're being Captain Obvious." But hear me out: McDavid has had two of his patented electrifying games so far this series, as well as three games (3, 4 and 5) in which he wasn't his explosive self, posting one assist across that stretch. If McDavid is held off the scoresheet in Game 7, the Oilers will lose.

This is the third Game 7 in the McDavid era for the Oilers. In 2017, McDavid had zero points in 24 minutes of ice time in a Game 7 loss against the Ducks in the second round. In 2022, McDavid had a goal and an assist in 27 minutes of ice time in a Game 7 win against the Kings in the opening round. The best player in the world must show up.

Shilton: Stuart Skinner. It's one thing to win in Game 6 when all the pressure is firmly on your opponent to close the deal. It's another story in Game 7, when urgency and desperation will be sky-high on both sides. Can Skinner handle the heat in that situation?

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch put his faith in Skinner to help the Oilers survive another day by tapping him for Game 6. But it doesn't mean much if Skinner falls apart again in Game 7. He has every right to feel confident and reassured after a strong return to the crease on Saturday. Now it's a case of "don't change much" despite Vancouver projecting to push harder than ever to reach the Western Conference finals. Skinner's performance could be the difference.

Wyshynski: Evan Bouchard. As I mentioned in discussing Quinn Hughes, Bouchard has been the most impactful defenseman in this series. Edmonton is a plus-6 in goal differential when he's on the ice at 5-on-5; that balloons to a plus-11 in all situations. He's tied with McDavid in points scored in the series with nine (both of them trailing Draisaitl, at 13). Bouchard is also leading the Oilers in average ice time (26:35).

He had the winning goals in Games 2 and 4, and has points in five of six games. Can he be the Game 7 hero, too?

The final score will be _______.

Clark: Canucks 4-3. The chances of Game 7 being decided by a single goal are extremely realistic. Until Game 6, every game of this series has been decided by one goal. Furthermore, the Canucks had played nine consecutive one-goal games this postseason until they lost Game 6. It's possible the Oilers could have another offensive outburst. But in a series that has been so tight, it would be fitting that the final conclusion is decided by the narrowest of margins.

Matiash: Oilers 3-2, with Draisaitl scoring the game winner in OT. Don't get me wrong, a frenzied goal-fest would be more fun, preferably decided in the waning minutes (overtime would be even better). But is that too big of an ask, considering how infective both teams' power plays have been of late? While Edmonton has one goal with the extra skater since Game 3, the Canucks are 0-for-11. Plus, in the spirit of not overthinking matters, two of the past three games in this series have been decided by a score of 3-2. So there's that.

Öcal: Oilers 6-4. I know, I know, how can a Game 7 be a track meet when players typically play not to make mistakes and nobody wants to be "that guy," right? This one feels different. I say it blows wide open and we see a back-and-forth battle between two exciting teams. It'll be 5-4 late in the third, with an empty-netter to seal it.

Shilton: Canucks 5-4. There will be goals. Lots of them. There will be pressure. Lots of it. In the end, Vancouver can get it done with the right focus and execution from throughout their lineup, from stars to role players. The Canucks and Oilers both have great depth, but if Vancouver can maximize its entire bench they can squeeze by Edmonton in a nail-biter and punch their ticket to the WCF.

Wyshynski: Oilers 3-2 in overtime. Both teams have shown the ability to defend well. In the Canucks' case, it's in the team DNA; in the Oilers' case, it's a bit more scattershot game to game. Both teams will bring that defensive aptitude in Game 7.

Vancouver can be shut down offensively: In Game 6, the Canucks were held to 15 shots (or fewer) for the third time this postseason. That's tied for the second most in a single postseason since first tracked in 1959-60, tied with the Bruins in 1988 and trailing only the Stars (4) in 1998. A tightly played game will end up in overtime, and one of the Oilers' skill players makes a play while Stuart Skinner holds the fort.