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Round 1

Oilers vs. Sharks playoff preview

Connor McDavid, Edmonton go for first playoff series win in 11 years; San Jose seeks return to Cup Final

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)

Season series: Edmonton 3-1-1

Last playoff meeting: 2006 Western Conference Semifinal; Oilers won series 4-2

All-time playoff series: Oilers lead 1-0

 

[RELATED: Oilers-Sharks coverage | Donskoi is Sharks' X-factor | Sharks need Burns to be force | Why Oilers will win Cup]

 

How they got here

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division at 47-26-9 with 103 points, a 33-point improvement from 2015-16, when they had 70 points, last in the Pacific and 29th in the NHL. The Oilers got off to a 7-1-0 start and carried that momentum through most of the season to clinch their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2006.

The San Jose Sharks finished third in the Pacific (46-29-7, 99 points). The Sharks return to the postseason after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season. San Jose had the second-best home record in the division (26-11-4) behind the Anaheim Ducks (29-8-4).

The best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series begins at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports).

Video: Oilers vs Sharks First Round Preview

 

5 storylines

Sharks' health: The statuses of San Jose centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are unknown. Couture took a puck to face March 25 against the Nashville Predators and missed the final seven games of the regular season. Thornton sustained a knee injury against the Vancouver Canucks on April 2 and missed the final three games. Couture, who had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists), and Thornton, who had 50 points (seven goals, 43 assists), finished third and fourth on the Sharks in scoring, so it will be a big loss if either misses any more time.

Connor McDavid: The Oilers captain has an unmatched combination of pure speed and ability to make plays at that speed. Having never played a game in the NHL playoffs, McDavid has stayed away from claiming to know how the postseason goes. The focus surely will be on whether he can continue to create the same opportunities for himself and regular linemates Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon once the playoffs begin.

Video: VAN@EDM: Draisaitl pots McDavid's 100th point

Brent Burns: The Sharks defenseman is a unique talent, incorporating size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), mobility, physicality and offensive instincts. Burns' 76 points led the Sharks, and his 29 goals were tied with Joe Pavelski for most on San Jose. Will the Oilers hound him, pressure him and try to hit him? Or will they go more for the containment strategy?

Todd McLellan vs. his former team: McLellan guided the Oilers to the playoffs in his second season as their coach. Prior to being hired by Edmonton, McLellan coached the San Jose for seven seasons, qualifying for the playoffs in the first six. Will his extensive knowledge of the Sharks, especially their veteran players like Thornton, Burns and Pavelski, be an advantage?

Experience factor: Much of the discussion about this series will center around the Sharks' big advantage in postseason experience. San Jose's roster has combined for 1,169 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs compared to 342 for Edmonton. Almost one-third of the Oilers' total is from left wing Milan Lucic, who has played in 101 NHL playoff games, including winning the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011. Beyond that, 16 Oilers have played 10 or fewer NHL postseason games, and 11 of 23 have no NHL playoff experience.

 

By the numbers

100: McDavid reached the 100-point mark in his second NHL season with a 14-game point streak (seven goals, 18 assists, 25 points) to finish the regular season. He was the only player in the League to reach 100.

320: Number of shots on goal this season by Burns, most in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was next with 313. The next-highest defenseman was Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets (241).

79: The improvement in Edmonton's goals-for/goals-against ratio from last season. The Oilers were minus-43 (199 goals-for, 242 goals-against) last season. They were plus-36 this season (243 goals-for, 207 goals-against), an improvement of nearly one goal per game.

1,169: Number of combined NHL playoff games on the San Jose roster. The Sharks have five players who have played in more than 100: Patrick Marleau (171), Thornton (156), Paul Martin (109) Marc-Edouard Vlasic (108) and Pavelski (105).

 

In the spotlight

Oilers: Cam Talbot, goalie -- Talbot led the NHL with 73 starts, seven more than Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs and eight more than his counterpart in this series, Martin Jones. Talbot was 42-22-8 with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and seven shutouts, and his steadiness was a major factor in how the Oilers climbed so quickly in the standings in one season.

Video: EDM@SJS: Talbot extends left pad to rob Tierney

Sharks: Joe Pavelski, center -- The Sharks captain has the sublime gift of extraordinary hand-eye coordination, which is of huge importance in the playoffs when time and space matter more than they did in the regular season. Pavelski has the ability to often turn nothing into something, and that's a game-changing asset that can help a team gain traction and momentum. Pavelski has scored 40 goals in 105 NHL playoff games, including 14 in San Jose's run to the 2016 Cup Final.

Video: BUF@SJS: Pavelski rips home rebound for second tally

 

Keys to victory

Oilers: Handling the pressure. Edmonton had the best record against the Western Conference (33-11-6) and the Pacific Division (20-6-3), and was the only Western Conference team to win 20 games in its own division. But the playoffs are a different animal, and maintaining structure and discipline when postseason emotions get ramped up will be a new challenge for a young team.

Sharks: Health. San Jose is a savvy, experienced team that knows all about the price required to win in the playoffs. The heartbreak it experienced last season losing in the Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games is sure to be an additional motivating factor this spring. Given that the Sharks know how to get the job done and were able to handle adversity in the 2016 playoffs, having Thornton and Couture available to give them a complete roster may be the most important thing in the first round.

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