The San Jose Sharks competed in their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals last season, while the Oilers were sitting at home in Edmonton in yet another playoff absence. Fast-forward a year and many are picking the upstart Oilers to send the Sharks home early from the Western Conference playoffs.
The Sharks head into the playoffs having lost nine of their final 13 regular season games, fading from the top of the Pacific Division to a third-place finish. The Oilers, led by Hart Trophy candidate Connor McDavid, ended the season winning 12 of their final 14 to finish second in the Pacific.
This year’s playoff tilt ends an 11-year Stanley Cup Playoff drought for the Oilers, and head coach Todd McLellan—a familiar face at SAP Center—has had a lot to do with that. McLellan took over for the Oilers last season after a mutual split from his head coaching position with the Sharks in 2015. His familiarity with the Sharks’ roster could be an advantage for the Oilers in what will likely be an emotional series.
However, looking at San Jose’s recent playoff history, entering the playoffs as underdogs might be a welcome sight for Sharks fans.
As the lowest scoring team to make the Western Conference playoffs, the Sharks will rely on defensemen Paul Martin, Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns to keep the Oilers out of goalie Martin Jones’ face. McDavid, who won this season’s scoring title with ease by notching 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists).
The Oilers have the upper-hand on the injury report, as the Sharks are down two of their top centers. Joe Thornton and Logan Couture both missed the end of the regular season nursing injuries that have placed their status as day-to-day heading into Wednesday’s opening game. Thornton, who suffered a knee injury in early April against Vancouver, hopes to play through the injury as he did in the 2011 Western Conference Finals, when he had a separated shoulder. Couture is also optimistic about playing as he recovers from taking a puck to the face, which caused him to miss the season’s final seven games.
The young Oilers lack big game experience. However, having won three of the five regular season games against the Sharks and entering the postseason on a tear, pulling off the upset will almost certainly be a difficult task for San Jose.
Then again, the Stanley Cup playoffs always provide a new atmosphere: full crowds, full beards and endless levels of enthusiasm. SAP Center will be a raucous sea of teal when the Sharks host the Oilers on Sunday, after playing the first two games away. The Game 1 puck drops at 7pm Wednesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
San Jose Sharks Playoff Schedule:
Game 1 — 7pm Wednesday, April 12 @ Edmonton
Game 2 — 7:30pm Wednesday, April 14 @ Edmonton
Game 3 — 7pm Wednesday, April 16 @ San Jose
Game 4 — 7pm Wednesday, April 18 @ San Jose
Game 5 — TBD Wednesday, April 20 @ Edmonton (If necessary)
Game 6 — TBD Wednesday, April 22 @ San Jose (If necessary)
Game 7 — TBD Wednesday, April 24 @ Edmonton (If necessary)