All eyes on Connor McDavid as Edmonton Oilers set to return to NHL playoffs

All eyes on McDavid as NHL playoffs begin

EDMONTON — All eyes will be on Connor McDavid when he plays his first NHL playoff game, looking to see if the Edmonton Oilers centre already in a league of his own can take his game even higher.

“I’m excited to see what he’s capable of in a playoff series,” said Oilers winger Milan Lucic after practice Tuesday at Rogers Place. “He took his game to another level to end the season.

“You look at the guys around the room, I think he’s as (excited) or more excited than anyone to get it going and make his debut in the playoffs.”

McDavid, 20, dominated the NHL scoring race in his first full season, after losing much of his rookie campaign last year to a cracked clavicle.

He finished with 30 goals and 100 points — 11 points up on runners-up Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.

He ended the season on a 14-game point streak. He racked up 30 multi-point games, the most in the NHL, and has never gone three games without a point in his pro career.

He’s averaging more than 21 minutes a night.

On the ice, he is a blur, going from zero to blistering speed in a few strides, turning world-class defenders into turnstiles, like a ringer in a beer league.

His passes find tape through tangled webs of players. He dangles the puck at top speed, bringing fans out of their seats whenever he accelerates past the red line in full stride with the puck on his stick.

“Anything’s possible when Connor has the puck,” said linemate Patrick Maroon. “He’s amped it up to another level, but we all knew he could do that. He’s been doing it all year for us.”

The Oilers host the San Jose Shark at Rogers Place on Wednesday in Game 1 of the opening round series, marking the first Oilers playoff game since the spring of 2006.

The Sharks, defending Western Conference champions, have almost 1,200 playoff games worth of playoff experience in their lineup, compared to 342 for the Oilers.

McDavid said experience matters but added, “At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. It’s still hockey. It’s still the game we played all year.”

Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said McDavid won’t face anything from the Sharks that he hasn’t faced already.

“He’s played 82 games with that target on his back,” said McLellan. “(He’s faced) the No. 1 (defence) pair, the No. 2 pair, the top checking line, the secondary line, man-on-man play, shadowing, group effort.

“There’s not going to be anything new. He has to find a way to play through it, but often he does that.”

On Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer shrugged off questions about ways to shut down McDavid.

“We don’t have home-ice advantage and we’re not going to chase matchups, so, whoever’s on the ice has to get the job done,” said DeBoer.

Logan Couture, the Sharks’ top two-way centre, would normally draw the straw to shut down McDavid, but he missed the last seven games of the year after taking a deflected slapshot to the mouth. Couture is day-to-day, skating in practice with a full cage.

The other key player, centre Joe Thornton, is also day to day after injuring his knee more than a week ago.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

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