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Oilers getting big boost from unlikely players

None of five game-winners in playoffs scored by top-six forward

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- The Edmonton Oilers have been getting big goals from unlikely players so far in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Look at the game-winning goals from their five victories, and you won't see top-six forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle or Milan Lucic next to any of them on the score sheet.

Adam Larsson is the latest player to unexpectedly step up for the Oilers.

After scoring four goals in 79 regular-season games, the defenseman scored twice, including the winner with 4:40 left in the third period, in Edmonton's 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round at Honda Center on Wednesday.

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is here Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Zack Kassian scored two game-winners for the Oilers when they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the first round. Anton Slepyshev and David Desharnais each had one. Third-line center Mark Letestu scored twice on the power play in Game 1 against the Ducks and has three goals in seven games after he scored an NHL career-high 16 in 78 regular-season games.

"It's good and it's fun to see those guys be rewarded," Larsson said after practice at Honda Center on Thursday. "Obviously, Draisaitl and McDavid, they've been there for us every night.

"It's always nice to see guys that work so hard during the season get rewarded. I think everybody's really happy for those guys. You need that depth scoring in the playoffs if you want to get really far. You need your top guys too, but you need that depth scoring if you want to go a long way."

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm1: Larsson pots second for late lead

The Pittsburgh Penguins got seven of their 16 game-winning goals from unheralded players on their way to winning the Stanley Cup last season. Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr each scored two, and Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary each had one.

Contributions from unheralded players also helped San Jose advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in its history last season. The Sharks lost to the Penguins in six games, but in their 14 playoff victories, they got two game-winners from Joonas Donskoi and one each from Tommy Wingels and Melker Karlsson.

"Usually in the playoffs, it's not always the top guys scoring all the goals," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It seems like the teams that go far always have guys that pick up the pace at different times.

"That's what we're finding. Everybody's into it and we're having fun out there."

Eberle, who plays right wing on Nugent-Hopkins' line, said the effect is important in the Oilers locker room.

"It's what you need to win," Eberle said. "Watching the playoffs, it seems like that's how it works. This is my first run through it, but there's a storyline like this every game, and as a teammate and being a part of it so far, it's been awesome to watch guys get confidence that way and see the team bonding.

"Look at our roster, and the big part of the way we got here is with Connor driving the bus. When he's getting checked that tightly, especially in playoff games, well, he's such a special player that teams are keying on him that much that you're getting guys stepping up and scoring like they are."

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm1: Letestu finishes rebound for second PPG

McDavid remains at the steering wheel for Oilers. He's been closely watched by the opponent's best defensive forward so far in the playoffs -- Anaheim center Ryan Kesler takes on that role in this series -- but has five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games.

Larsson said the secondary scoring that's helping the Oilers is taking some of the pressure off their top scorers.

"They probably (put) a lot of pressure on themselves," Larsson said. "It's always a better atmosphere when you win games, and it doesn't really matter how we do it, we just have to get it done. They've been winning a lot of games for us this year. You just need this in the playoffs."

McDavid said the reduction in pressure is real when the likes of Desharnais, Kassian, Larsson, Letestu and Slepyshev score big goals.

"Sure, when you're getting scoring from those kind of guys, it's always nice," McDavid said. "I've always believed in our depth and believed in those guys. They may not score all the time, but they're always getting chances, making plays and doing all that, so it's nice to see it going in for them. They've been great."

Oilers coach Todd McLellan said he doesn't view their method of success so far as defying the odds.

"I'm not an oddsmaker," McLellan said. "I don't think we're gambling. We're just playing hockey, and it ends up on somebody's tape and they shoot it in the net. There's not a script that you have to follow in playoffs.

"I've said this about eight times already, that because of the Connor factor, you don't win based on one individual's shoulders. You win on a player-by-player and team environment. Different guys are putting it in the net at different times. It's real important for that to happen in the playoffs. It has to continue for us."

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