Sharks aim for commanding lead vs. Oilers

EDMONTON, Alberta -- As Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series between San Jose and Edmonton progressed, something became clearly obvious; that the Sharks postseason experience was a key factor against an Oilers' team that featured a slew of players making their playoff debuts.

Despite the crowd noise in Edmonton and falling behind by two goals, the Sharks took over the game, won 3-2 in overtime and ended up outshooting the home side 44-19. There were long periods where the orange-clad crowd appeared frustrated by the Oilers' lack of both puck possession and time spent in the offensive zone.

The Sharks hemmed the Oilers into their zone for long periods of Game 1, and Edmonton struggled to make the transition passes that would allow the defensemen to find some of the team's fleet-footed forwards.

San Jose will look to take a 2-0 lead Friday at Rogers Place.

"I know we've got to be better with the puck," Oilers star center Connor McDavid said after the team's practice on Thursday. "Both blue lines, I thought coming out we were a little bit sloppy at our blue line, and I thought that's something we've been pretty good at all year."

McDavid, who had 100 points on the season, was limited to one assist in his playoff debut.

"We weren't going to go 16 and 0," said Oilers center Mark Letestu, who, with 18 career playoff games under his belt, is one of the team's veterans in that regard. "We didn't expect to sweep these guys, either. The idea was to come in today (to practice), flush it, and be ready for another game."

Anyone who has been around Oilers coach Todd McLellan for any period of time has heard the "flush it," adage. He's been using it all season long -- win or lose, he doesn't want his players to dwell on the past. He wants his team to always be focused on what's next.

"There's no panic in this room," said Letestu. "We know we're a lot better than we showed. We had a good first period, but, after that, it was a pretty poor game on our part."

The status of Sharks veteran center Joe Thornton is up in the air. He's in Edmonton, he's been at practices, but he didn't dress for Game 1. A knee issue kept him out of the final week of the regular season. But, by guaranteeing at least a split of the first two games in Edmonton, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer doesn't have to rush Thornton.

"We hope to be in this for a long time and, if I get a couple of days here and there, it would help me out in the long term," Thornton said Wednesday.

But the Sharks did get a boost in Game 1 with the return of Logan Couture, who had been out since March 25 after taking a puck to the mouth. The injury was so serious he required extensive dental surgery.

"Let's be honest, this guy's a world-class player," said DeBoer. "Even at 75 percent, he's still better than most guys in your lineup. He's a playoff-type player, and I don't think it was an accident that he led the league in playoff scoring last year, and he wasn't going to be kept out of the game last night."

Couture had 30 points in 24 playoff games last season as the Sharks went all the way to the Cup final, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Couture may be playing at only 75 percent, but as the series goes on he will get better and stronger.

While the Sharks did a great job limiting McDavid in Game 1, they understand it's simply not enough to key on one star player.

"The Edmonton Oilers are much more than Connor McDavid," said DeBoer. "He's a great player and he's a guy you have to pay attention to, but we've learned over the season they're much more than that and much deeper than that. Our game plan wasn't just about Connor McDavid, it was about our team game all over the ice."

Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson was absent from the team's practice on Thursday, but McLellan said it's a "maintenance day" for the team's top-pairing rearguard. He said Larsson will play Friday.
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