SAN JOSE, Calif. — San Jose prepared for Oilers star Connor McDavid. Now they need to figure out how to stop Zack Kassian.
Zack Kassian scored the only goal and Cam Talbot made 23 saves for his second straight shutout as Edmonton downed the San Jose Sharks 1-0 on Sunday in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarter-final series.
Kassian intercepted a weak clearing attempt by Sharks defenceman Dave Schlemko, then slid a backhand shot past goalie Martin Jones to break a scoreless tie at 10:45 of the third period.
“You can’t say enough about him right now,” Talbot said of Kassian. “He’s playing at a new level. I think he’s picked up his game. That’s what we need in the playoffs. Your top guys get marked pretty hard. We need secondary scoring and he’s giving it to us right now.”
The Oilers now lead the best-of-seven set 2-1. The series continues with Game 4 Tuesday night in San Jose.
Kassian, who also had the game-winner Friday night in Edmonton in Game 2, was quick to share credit with linemate Leon Draisaitl for Sunday night’s lone goal.
“He skated hard He didn’t stop skating,” Kassian said. “He made (Schlemko) make a play. I saw he was looking for a long pass and I just tried to get in the way. Lucky for me I got a stick on it and tried to settle it down and shot it on net.”
Draisaitl started the game at wing on a line with McDavid, but Edmonton coach Todd McLellan adjusted his lines in the second period, moving Draisaitl to centre on Kassian’s line.
That move was a reaction to the fact Sharks centre Joe Thornton returned to the San Jose lineup after missing five games with a knee injury. That made the Sharks stronger down the middle, McLellan said, and helped them dominate the first period.
“So we moved a few things around. It was not a demotion by any means for Leon,” McLellan said. “In fact, I whispered in his ear that it was a promotion because his responsibility level had to go way up.”
The Oilers held their own in a scoreless opening period against a Sharks team determined to show their lacklustre performance in Game 2 was an aberration.
While outshot 13-6 and outhit 32-14 over the first 20 minutes, Edmonton came away with two strong scoring chances of its own with McDavid in the middle of both, setting up Patrick Maroon on the doorstep at 7:28 and Mark Letestu on the power play at 19:15.
In the second period, the Sharks threatened early with Talbot coming up big on consecutive shots by San Jose forwards Jonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl. But after that, it was the Oilers, who outshot San Jose 12-4 in the middle period, applying the pressure.
Talbot acknowledged that back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs felt great.
“But the job’s not done yet,” Talbot said. “We came in, got home-ice advantage back but it would be nice to come in and play another job like that on Tuesday.”
The Edmonton goalie, who has only faced 39 shots in earning the two shutouts, said that he has tried to stay focused by playing the puck and helping out his defencemen a little bit more than usual.
“Just stay engaged in the game is the biggest thing,” Talbot said.
The Oilers were helped by the fact San Jose continued to struggle on the power play, even with Thornton back in the lineup, going 0 for 2 and falling to 1 for 14 in the series.
McLellan, returning to the city where he coached the Sharks for five seasons, played down any special significance the victory might have had for him.
“It’s sure not about me, I can tell you that much. Everybody moves on,” the coach said, adding later: “It’s about the guys who have ice packs on their ankles and blocking shots. They’re tired, they’re sore.”