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Oilers show mental toughness entering Game 6

After rallying for OT win, can eliminate Sharks on Saturday

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- More signs that the Edmonton Oilers are building resilience showed up when they rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of their Western Conference First Round series on Thursday.

Leading the best-of-7 series 3-2, the Oilers can eliminate the Sharks with a win in Game 6 at SAP Center on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCSCA).

But this is no time for them to congratulate themselves. The Oilers said before traveling to San Jose on Friday that their toughest game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is ahead of them.

"We're going to find out [how tough]," Oilers center Mark Letestu said. "It's our first chance as a group to experience this. We'd love to do it in this first game. We're going to have play our best game of the series."

Letestu, who scored a power-play goal in Game 5, said he suspects the Sharks are getting better in the series.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Oilers series coverage]

 

"This team's belief system is really strong," he said of the Sharks. "They were in the Stanley Cup Final last year. They probably believe they're going to come back. So we're going to have to do everything, special teams, faceoffs, things that were strong last night, they're going to have to show up again for us to be successful."

Oilers coach Todd McLellan said Game 6 will be Edmonton's biggest challenge of the season.

"I think the playoff pundits will tell you the toughest one to win is that final one," McLellan said. "Teams that are playing right now have a very high belief system regardless of where they are in the series. It's a hostile place to play in that arena. We have had some success but the important thing for us is to be ready to play.

"I believe we've learned our lesson following Game 4. We know they're going to have a push. We're going to have to take our game to another level."

The Oilers, who lost 7-0 in Game 4 on Tuesday in San Jose, were true to their promise to be better for Game 5, to forget about how poorly they played in that loss.

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm5: Letestu, Draisaitl combine for PPG

"We've been really good this year at rebounding, at not dwelling on tough games," Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "Seven-nothing game, tough, not the way you want to play in the playoffs but sometimes maybe those are easier to forget about because you did nothing good and you can just flush it, get rid of it and we definitely moved on."

Edmonton scored the first goal of Game 5 but was trailing 3-1 by 8:38 of the second period. The Oilers kept pushing and got a goal from Letestu late in the second period and the tying goal from Oscar Klefbom at 17:14 of the third. 

That paved the way for a dominant overtime, when the Oilers outshot the Sharks 14-2 and David Desharnais scored at 18:15.

"The way the game played out, the comeback and the overtime, I don't know if we expected that but we knew we'd have a strong game," Letestu said.

McLellan began pushing that belief when he was hired before the 2015-16 season.

"For two years, he's been hammering on us to not fold our hand," Letestu said. 

Rallying from an awful Game 4, and also within Game 5, showed McLellan he is getting somewhere with regard to the Oilers' mental strength.

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm5: Desharnais strikes for OT win

"There was a calmness on our bench," McLellan said of Game 5. "We tried to fix some things and we think we did but we were still down. There was no need to wander from the game plan, to turn into individuals and try to do it on your own.

"We stuck with it. That doesn't happen overnight. That evolves over time. We're slowly growing as a team and in that mental capacity as well, to stick with things and to have a little resilience, to understand you're given 60 minutes and a lot of nights you have to use all 60."

And while he has been "hammering" on the subject regularly, McLellan said he's taking no credit for the progress.

"It tends to be more powerful … when the players can take over the team, when the players take over situations and provide that leadership and calmness," he said. "That's coming from them now - they understand they can and will do things the right way."

Now the Oilers are not concerned with bouncing back, but bouncing higher, in Game 6 on the road.

"It's a really difficult game [Saturday]," Letestu said. "We're going to need everybody, and probably a little bit more."

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