Oilers gain experience as they prepare for Ducks

EDMONTON — In the forthcoming battle of Orange Crush versus Orange County, the Edmonton Oilers say they can no longer be characterized as green.

“We’ve got playoff experience now. We just went through a round,” Oiler centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Monday after practice at Rogers Place.

“It gives us confidence now that we’re a legit team and we can play against anybody.”

The Oilers open the second round of the NHL playoffs Wednesday in California’s Orange County against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Oilers, who have adopted the slogan “Orange Crush” for their playoff run, dispatched a veteran San Jose Sharks team in six games over the weekend in the first round.

They won despite a lineup of young players, and even some veterans, with little to no playoff experience at the NHL level.

The Oilers got a big boost from goaltender Cam Talbot. In his first NHL playoff series as a starter, Talbot recorded two shutouts and turned back the Sharks when they attacked in waves in the deciding game, a 3-1 Oilers win.

Talbot said they experienced everything in that series.

“We were up, we protected leads, we were behind, we came back, we won in overtime, we got blown out and we learned lessons from that. And in the last game we got up early and we protected (the lead) down the stretch,” he said.

“It showed we can play any kind of game, and I think that benefits us going forward.”

It was not only the first taste of NHL post-season for key Oilers Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, Jordan Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins, it was also the first time the Oilers had been in the playoffs in a decade.

The Ducks, like the Sharks, are a veteran team with a lot of playoff miles, led by Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Corey Perry.

The numbers suggest a long series between two evenly matched teams. The Ducks won the Pacific Division with 105 points, two up on the Oilers, but the Oilers won the season series 3-2.

Anaheim is the hottest team in hockey, winning its last 18 regulation games, including four straight over the Calgary Flames in the first round.

The Oilers with league scoring leader McDavid, ranked eighth in goals-for this year, while Anaheim was third overall on defence, allowing just 197 markers.

The Oiler power play was killer at almost 23 per cent (ranked fifth) while the Ducks were a wall on the penalty kill (84.7 per cent and ranked fourth).

Talbot had a .927 save percentage in the first round. Anaheim’s John Gibson was .926.

The Oilers were 22-14-5 on the road this year (seventh) but the Ducks won 29 of 41 at home at the Honda Center, good for third in the NHL.

The marquee matchup will be McDavid against Kesler, the Ducks shutdown super-pest and finalist for this year’s Selke Trophy as best defensive forward.

The series will also see former Duck Patrick Maroon play against his old teammates. Maroon, traded from Anaheim last season, has been playing on a line with McDavid and Draisaitl for much of the year, although he got bumped down the lineup for the speeder Drake Caggiula as the San Jose series progressed.

“(The Ducks) are going to get on the forecheck. They use the body (and) their D are strong,” said Maroon.

“It’s going to be big and physical,” said Maroon.

Notes: Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler, out for the last three weeks with a knee sprain, has been skating in practice, and is expected back at some point in the Edmonton series. Klefbom missed the third period of Game 6 against San Jose with the flu and didn’t skate Monday, but head coach Todd McLellan said he will be in the lineup for Game 1.

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