Oilers ready for Sharks challenge as they return to playoffs

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) The Edmonton Oilers return to the NHL playoffs Wednesday against the Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in a series expected to turn on experience - and injuries.

Centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are day to day with injuries for the Sharks, who ended the last three weeks of the regular season in a freefall.

''They're missing a couple of key guys and they make a world of difference,'' said center Connor McDavid after Edmonton finished the regular season second in the Pacific Division.

Couture has been skating but is still in pain after being drilled in the face by a redirected Brent Burns slap shot March 25. Thornton injured his left knee in a collision a week ago against the Vancouver Canucks.

Couture is a critical piece as he would be tasked with shadowing and shutting down McDavid, the NHL's fleet-footed scoring champion.

McDavid will lead his Oilers to the ice Wednesday at Rogers Place for the opening game of the first-round series.

The Oilers have not been in the postseason since 2006 when they made a surprising run that ended with a loss in the Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Along the way, they beat the Sharks in six games, the only time the teams have met in the playoffs.

Key forwards such as McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defensemen Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse will play their first NHL playoff games.

Other players such as Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon, David Desharnais, and Mark Letestu have some experience in the postseason.

And then there's Milan Lucic, a veteran of 101 playoff games and a Stanley Cup in Boston.

Lucic said when a veteran team such as the Sharks gets close to the Stanley Cup, it's addictive.

''I know what they're feeling,'' Lucic said. ''I've been a part of teams that have gone to the final and the next year once you get to that 50-, 60-, 70-game mark you can't wait for the playoffs to start again.

''You know they're confident. You know they passed up on an opportunity (to win it all) last year and they're going to try to do whatever they can to not pass up on it this year.''

Eberle said the Oilers won't be wide-eyed when the puck drops.

''We have enough experience in this locker room to handle the playoffs,'' he said.

Eberle is especially looking forward to the tournament. He's in his seventh NHL season, all with Edmonton, and has yet to play for the big prize.

''It's been frustrating. This is usually the last day (of the season) for me,'' Eberle said. ''It's what you play hockey for, to get into the postseason and I have a chance to do that finally.''

The stats favor the Oilers.

Edmonton finished second in the Pacific Division with 103 points. The Sharks appeared to have the division locked up in mid-March, only to lose nine of their last 13 to tumble to third with 99 points.

The Oilers beat the Sharks three out of five games, including twice in the past two weeks.

Another factor is Oilers coach Todd McLellan and assistants Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson. All three parted ways with the Sharks two years ago and are back in the playoffs facing their former team.

''Our coaches probably know that team better than anybody in the league, so it will help,'' Eberle said. ''But we've played them enough during the season that we know how they play.

''We know their key guys and what they want to do. It's just a matter of outworking and outplaying them.''

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More AP NHL: apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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