Oilers look to make it 3 straight over Sharks
On paper, the opening-round playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers features some of the NHL’s brightest offensive stars on both sides.
Making their first playoff appearance in a decade, the Oilers have 20-year-old Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid. The Sharks counter with this season’s top scoring defenseman, Brent Burns, among much of the same cast that reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 2016.
As is the case so many times in playoff hockey, unheralded players and stout defense end up grabbing many headlines.
Riding the momentum created by Zack Kassian and Cam Talbot, the Oilers will try to take a 3-1 series lead when they meet the Sharks in Game 4 on Tuesday night at SAP Center in San Jose.
Edmonton was third in the Western Conference with 243 goals while San Jose was 10th with 219. Neither team’s big offensive producers have made a splash in the series so far.
McDavid, the Oilers captain and the next big thing in the NHL, has a goal and an assist in his first playoff series. But two players who had breakout seasons — Leon Draisaitl (29 goals, 48 assists) and Patrick Maroon (27 goals) — have failed to record a point.
Enter Kassian, who’s quickly gaining folk hero status after scoring the game-winning goals in a 2-0 victory in Game 2 on Friday and a 1-0 win in Sunday’s Game 3. He hadn’t scored any game-winners since March 9, 2015, while with the Vancouver Canucks.
“You can’t say enough about him right now,” Talbot said. “He’s playing a new level. I think he’s picked up his game, and that’s what we need in playoffs. Our top guys are usually getting marked pretty hard and we need secondary scoring and he’s giving it to us right now.”
While Kassian has been an unexpected surprise, Talbot might be the Oilers’ most valuable player in this series. He has stopped 80 of 83 shots en route to back-to-back shutouts, and assisted on McDavid’s insurance goal midway through the third period on Friday.
“It feels great but, I mean, the job’s not done yet,” Talbot said. “We came in, got home-ice advantage back, but it’d be nice to come in and play another game like that on Tuesday.”
The Oilers have won 14 of 17 games, including four of five from San Jose.
“We’ve been playing these games for a couple of weeks heading into the playoffs, which I think was a good stepping stone for us,” Talbot added.
The Sharks have managed only three goals in the series and none since Melker Karlsson scored 3:22 into overtime of Game 1. The team also hasn’t capitalized on careless play by Edmonton throughout the series, failing to score in 13 of 14 power-play chances.
“It was a one-goal game, a one-shot game. This time of year, you’ve got to find a way to get on the right side of that,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after Sunday’s loss. “We have to score to win, so offensively that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on.”
Burns set career highs with 29 goals and 76 points as he played a full 82-game slate for the third straight season. However, in the last 22 games, including the postseason, Burns has only two goals and seven assists — with three of those points coming in one game.
Also failing to beat Talbot are Joe Pavelski (29 goals in 2016-17), Patrick Marleau (27) and Logan Couture (25), who is still feeling effects of a facial injury sustained late in March.
The return of Joe Thornton didn’t pay immediate dividends. The 37-year-old, who could be a free agent this summer, played 16:27 on Sunday after missing the final three games of the regular season and first two of this series with a knee injury.
“I felt great. I feel healthy and ready to go for Game 4 now. … We’ve still got another level to go to next game,” said Thornton, tied for fifth among active players in playoff scoring with 121 points (27 goals, 94 assists).
Including the postseason, the Sharks have played 2,192 games. They have never been blanked in three straight games but have dropped three straight Game 4s.
“We’ll keep trying, keep looking and keep fighting,” Pavelski said.
Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday in Edmonton.