Mike Smith ready to step up for Edmonton Oilers’ stretch drive

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Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith will be back in net Thursday night when the team hosts the Buffalo Sabres.

People can listen to the game live on 630 CHED beginning with The Faceoff Show at 5:30 p.m. The actual game starts at 7 p.m.

Smith hasn’t played since March 5 in a loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He missed a couple of games after that with an illness, then backed up Mikko Koskinen for the last two games.

Smith has endured an injury-riddled season and has just five wins in 15 appearances. He said after practice on Wednesday that he’s not worried about the past and is instead focused on creating a healthy competition with Koskinen.

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“There are just so many games in a short period of time,” he said. “Mikko in this last stretch has deserved to be in net, but both guys are important.

“Going into the playoffs, you obviously want two guys who are playing well and you can go either way.”

Forward Jesse Puljujarvi (out since Feb. 17) and defenceman Kris Russell (out since Jan. 31) are also expected to return from injuries. Puljujarvi practised Wednesday on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman. That moved Ryan McLeod down to play with Josh Archibald and Zack Kassian.

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“Jesse is a top six player. We want to get him up and running,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “I think that’s the makings of a good line — a big, hard, heavy, cycle-driven line.

“Ryan McLeod is still going to get his minutes. He plays on both special teams. He’s a real versatile player that can be moved around the lineup. I feel really good putting him in any type of situation.”

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has the Oilers’ remaining key injury. Speaking on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer, general manager Ken Holland said Nugent-Hopkins will miss at least another week.

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Holland feels it’s been a long time since the Oilers played a game with their ideal — and healthy — roster.

“We kind of felt that Nov. 18 was the last time,” Holland recalled.

“Having only one or two people injured instead of five or six people injured certainly is going to make a difference.”

Holland added that he’d be most likely to look to add a defenceman before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Also on Wednesday, forward Tyler Benson was placed on waivers while defenceman Philip Broberg was sent to Bakersfield in the AHL.

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