SUN Hockey Pool

Out for revenge ...

The Edmonton Oilers were able to neutralize star San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton during last...

The Edmonton Oilers were able to neutralize star San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton during last year's playoffs with physical, in-your-face play. Can they do it tomorrow night? (Edmonton Sun File/Perry Mah)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers 2006 playoff run: The gift that keeps on giving.

A year ago at this time, San Jose versus Edmonton generated all the buzz of a dead bee. Given a choice between Teal, Or No Teal, fans voted with their feet - the only game the Oilers couldn't sell out all year was an early-season date with the Sharks.

They sold out for games with Minnesota, for crying out loud, and couldn't fill the place when San Jose came calling.

But you make a lot of enemies during an extended playoff run, and enemies are good for the schedule. When the Oilers pounded San Jose into submission last spring, a rivalry was born.

Suddenly, Game 3 of the regular season has more hooks, sizzle and reasons to move to the edge of your seat than any third game of the season in recent memory.

"Last year is fresh in our minds and I'm sure it's fresh in theirs, too," said winger Ryan Smyth, who's expecting nothing less than a playoff atmosphere tomorrow night at Rexall Place.

LOTS OF INTENSITY

"They're out for revenge and we're looking to maintain what we did last year. I think the intensity is going to carry right over."

How can it not, given what happened last spring and the expectations each club has for this season?

"They're a team we expect to challenge us all year," said Joffrey Lupul, who's new to the Oilers, but no stranger to the Sharks from his Anaheim days. "I don't know if anyone can throw out two better centres than they have."

Indeed. The undefeated Sharks boast the best one-two punch down the middle in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the best sniper in Jonathan Cheechoo, the best one-two goaltending tandem in Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabakov, and they walked through Calgary Monday in the Saddledome.

They'll want nothing more than to lay a similar beating on the club that derailed their championship aspirations last spring.

"We're looking forward to the challenge," said Smyth. "We know that they're a measuring stick.

"They made a few changes and so did we. I watched the game against Calgary and they're very powerful. We know what they're capable of doing."

From a coach's perspective, the schedule is perfect.

The Oilers have been notoriously slow starters, saving their best work for frantic, desperate stretch drives.

But rivalry games like this are a perfect way to rekindle the passion that served them so well in the playoffs.

"This is a great time for this game," said Oilers veteran Ethan Moreau, who thinks playing San Jose should help Edmonton find the extra gear they didn't have in the rematch loss to Calgary.

"I'd imagine Thursday we'll be back to our usual selves."

PROVING GROUND

It'll also give Edmonton a chance to prove their team didn't whither and die when Chris Pronger left town.

When NHL media list their favourites in the West, it's always San Jose, Anaheim, Calgary and maybe Nashville. Nobody is talking about Edmonton, despite what they did last year.

"I am surprised that we're not being mentioned with those teams, because we beat them," said Moreau.

"But it doesn't matter what we say, our play will dictate where people think we should be.

"San Jose picked up some new players, they're going to be solid.

"This is another really good test for us early in the year."


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