The young Edmonton Oilers proved to be quick learners, scoring twice shorthanded to beat the San Jose Sharks 2-0 in Game 2 of their first-round series on Friday.
Zack Kassian scored early in the second period and Connor McDavid added the insurance marker midway through the third to even best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series at one game apiece.
Game 3 goes Sunday night in San Jose.
Kassian, a fourth-line winger, drove the net effectively and delivered bone-jarring hits on Sharks’ Brenden Dillon and Logan Couture at Rogers Place. By the end of the second period fans were chanting “Kass-ee-ann! Kass-ee-ann!”
“As a group we wanted to have a good bounce-back game,” said Kassian.
“It was one of those things, the puck seemed to follow me tonight. My linemates played well. We brought a lot of energy.”
McDavid said Kassian was the difference-maker.
“He dominated the game tonight. He was a physical presence, scored a huge goal for us. It was his show tonight,” said McDavid.
The result was a sharp contrast from Game 1, when the Oilers were outshot 44-19 en route to a 3-2 overtime loss.
The Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in that game but were suffocated by a relentless Sharks forecheck after that.
This time the Oilers kept their foot on the gas pedal. They outshot the Sharks 36-16 and outhit them 41-21.
“We’re disappointed with the way it went,” said Sharks forward Joe Pavelski.
“We got what we probably deserved out there.”
Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot faced few quality scoring chances en route to the shut out.
A lot was made of the Oilers playoff inexperience, with just 342 combined post-season games under their belt heading into the playoffs compared to well over 1,000 games for the Sharks, the defending Western Conference champions.
McDavid said the Oilers were able to settle down after first-game jitters.
“Guys might have been nervous the first game. I definitely felt a little bit of nerves in the first one. Guys just played comfortable (this time), played more of our style of game,” he said.
“It was a tale of two games,” he said.
“We really locked it down once we got that first goal.”
It was Edmonton’s first playoff win since the spring of 2006. They had missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons prior to this year.
Kassian scored 42 seconds into the second frame when Pavelski lost control of the puck at the Oilers blue line. He swiped at the puck with this stick, giving it to Oilers Mark Letestu.
Letestu promptly passed it to a streaking Kassian, who barreled in alone and fired a wrist shot low past the blocker of goalie Martin Jones.
McDavid, the NHL’s regular-season scoring leader, scored his first NHL playoff goal at the 10:31 mark, streaking down the left side and launching a shortside wrist shot that eluded Jones.
The Sharks were 0 for 6 with the man advantage and are 1 for 12 through the first two games. San Jose’s power play was ranked 25th in the NHL in the regular season at 16.7 per cent.
The Sharks’ power play has suffered from the absence of dominant centre Joe Thornton.
Thornton has been day-to-day with a knee injury he suffered April 2. He has been skating in practice, and Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has said he expects Thornton to return at some point in the series.
Notes: The Oilers got a scare in the third period when defenceman Oscar Klefbom went down after blocking a shot. Oilers coach Todd McLellan said he later talked to Klefbom and the defenceman told him he was OK.