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Connor McDavid made impact for Oilers without piling up points

Edmonton center drew attention of defense, drove play in first-round win against Sharks

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- The points may not have come as often as they did during the regular season, but center Connor McDavid was an impact player in the Edmonton Oilers' Western Conference First Round series victory against the San Jose Sharks, coach Todd McLellan said Sunday.

McDavid, the Oilers captain, had a team-high four points (two goals, one into an empty net in Game 6, and two assists) in the best-of-7 series Edmonton ended in six games with a 3-1 win at SAP Center on Saturday. The Oilers will play the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Second Round.

Four points in six games did not match McDavid's regular-season scoring pace; he led the NHL with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists). But McLellan said numbers didn't tell the whole story.

"It depends how you evaluate leading offensively," he said before the Oilers traveled home Sunday. "The pace and tenacity they played with; I think he led our team in offensive chances or came pretty darn close to it.

"He forced the opposition to focus on him solely, and in turn it opened up ice for other people. So for me that's a win and that's what happens when other players pick up the slack, they get the accolades, [forward Zack] Kassian, [forward Anton] Slepyshev, those type of players that scored winning goals, they had the ability to do that because [San Jose defensemen Marc-Edouard] Vlasic and [Justin] Braun were on the ice all the time against Connor."

Points are not McLellan's highest priority in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't pull out the sheet and see who's leading the League in scoring," he said. "You pull it out and see who's winning, and why are they winning. Next series, Connor's line may have 15 points, who knows? But at the end, I'll do the same thing; open up the stat sheet and see who's winning."

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm2: McDavid pots first playoff goal in win

McDavid may go head-to-head against Anaheim center Ryan Kesler in the next round. That matchup occurred several times during the regular season.

"We don't know that yet," McLellan said. "They have in the past and they have a Selke [Trophy finalist] there that's very good at it. We'll see how the series takes shape. I'm guessing they'll have a pair of D-men they'll want on the ice as well against Connor."

The Oilers eliminated the Sharks with two game-winning goals by Kassian and one each by Slepyshev and center David Desharnais.

"Going into the playoffs, we knew if we were going to win, the depth would have to be big," Kassian said. "As the rounds go on, we're going to need that. We got that and we ended up winning.

"Teams are going to have tough matchups against Connor, so it's a matter of the depth prevailing in a few games - and look where we are today."

Against the Ducks, the Oilers will be facing a team with a different look than the Sharks.

"Anaheim has big bodies, they play a little more physical," Kassian said. "We feel we are equipped to play any way. We want to be the team that can take Anaheim down."

Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who played 22:36 in Game 6 when teammate Oscar Klefbom was unable to finish because of the flu, said Sunday a series against the Ducks could be more acrimonious.

"They have a real strong team, and we have to take our game to a new level," Nurse said. "You saw that sometimes we were trying to push [San Jose] around, and they wouldn't react. It'll be a bit different in Anaheim. They have a big, strong team that will try to engage and try and get us off our game. We have to be ready."

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The Ducks swept the Calgary Flames in the first round after finishing the season on an 11-0-3 run that powered them to first place in the Pacific Division.

"As good as they are offensively, they check just as well," McLellan said. "They didn't give up much against Calgary 5-on-5. Our task will be tough. But that's what happens when you get down to eight teams."

The Oilers' growth during the series against the Sharks was an important factor.

"Going into Game 1 and losing late in OT, we came back and had a strong Game 2," defenseman Kris Russell said. "And [Game 4], what did we lose by, 7-0? That was a real challenge coming back into this rink. There's steps along the way. Closing out a series was huge, and we'll only grow."

McLellan said for him, growth in the first round equaled playoff experience, something the Oilers did not have a lot of entering the postseason. Edmonton is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006.

"Just to learn or to have felt that emotion of playoffs, to understand the preparation process, the adjustments that go through from game to game, the rhythm of a series, the officiating standard," McLellan said. "There's a lot of things that happen over a two-week period that you don't get in the regular season, and we now have experienced it.

"Combine all that with the emotional highs and lows and the scrutiny of the media, which is a little bit different come playoff time, especially in Canada. I think we've grown in those areas, or at least gained some experience in those areas, and we'll have to put that to good use in Round 2."

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