SAN JOSE — The Sharks will face their former coach and one of the hottest teams in the NHL to start the postseason.
Most of all, they have to find a way to slow down the NHL’s top point-producer to have any chance of getting to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight year.
The Sharks will play Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with Game 1 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Game 2 will be Friday in Edmonton, with games 3 and 4 at SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday, April 16 and Tuesday, April 18, respectively.
Led by McDavid, who won the Art Ross Trophy with 100 regular season points, the Oilers — coached by Todd McLellan — finished the regular season with 12 wins in their last 14 games. They finished with 103 points, racing past the Sharks, who finished with 99 points and went 4-9 in their last 13 games.
“It doesn’t really matter for us what kind of building we go into,” center Chris Tierney said after the Sharks’ win over Calgary on Saturday. “We’ve been able to win tough games on the road before. I think when you go on the road in a playoff game you dial in even more almost than home ice. We’re going to be hungry to go, and try to win the first one.”
The Sharks’ first round opponent was finalized late Sunday. Anaheim’s game against Los Angeles went to overtime, giving the Ducks their fifth straight regular season division title. Anaheim won the game 4-3 in overtime.
The Oilers beat Vancouver 5-2 in Sunday’s other late game. But Anaheim finished with 105 points and will face Calgary in the first round.
The Sharks went 2-3 against the Oilers this season, losing three straight in the series. In five games against the Sharks this season, McDavid, 20, had four goals and four assists.
The Oilers beat the Sharks 3-2 on March 30, as Patrick Maroon scored twice and McDavid added a dazzling shorthanded goal and one assist. On Thursday, the Sharks held a one-goal lead in the third period, but Milan Lucic scored a natural hat trick in the game’s final 15:34 to lead the Oilers to a 4-2 win.
The Sharks were without Logan Couture for both of those games and Joe Thornton for the April 6 game. The availability of both players for Wednesday’s series opener is in question.
“They were missing a couple of key guys and they make a world of difference,” McDavid said Sunday night of Thornton and Couture. “We can feel good about beating them a few times, I guess. But it doesn’t change anything.”
McLellan, who coached the Sharks from 2008-2015 and remains the team’s winningest coach with a 311-163-66 regular season record, has led the Oilers to the playoffs in just his second season with the team.
The Sharks, after advancing to the Cup final last season, have more playoff experience than the Oilers, who are in the postseason for the first time since 2006. Whether that will pay off this season remains to be seen.
“I think it’s some experience and a veteran group, and I also think it’s the character of your group,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve got a lot of character in there. They know this is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Get ready. It’s the best time of the year.#WreckTheRig pic.twitter.com/ljsAFoZXBi
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) April 10, 2017
The last time the Sharks faced the Oilers in the playoffs was in 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals. The Sharks won the first two games before the Oilers roared back to win the next four and capture the series.
The momentum of the series changed in Game 2, when an open-ice hit by then-Oiler Raffi Torres concussed Sharks’ winger Milan Michalek.
Michalek, who had 35 points in 81 games that season, didn’t play again in the series. Edmonton then went on to the Stanley Cup Final, where it lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.