GAME: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; tied 2-2.
TIME: Sunday, 10 p.m. EDT.
Edmonton looked to be in trouble after dropping the first two games of its playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. The Oilers, though, seem to be making a habit of surprising favored opponents in this postseason.
Edmonton shoots for its third straight victory over San Jose as the series shifts back to HP Pavilion for Game 5.
The Oilers dropped the first two games against the Sharks by 2-1 scores, and looked to be on their way out of the playoffs after stunning top-seeded Detroit in six games in the first round. According to the Oilers, though, getting back into this series required only a few breaks.
"It was just a matter of time before we got some bounces," said Oilers center Michael Peca, whose second-period goal was the first of five unanswered by Edmonton in a 6-3 victory Friday night. "I think we are doing a much better job getting pucks to the net and getting our forecheck going. I think (the Sharks) seemed a little too satisfied with their start (Friday), but one thing we have been all year is resilient."
Edmonton avoided falling into an 0-3 hole with a 3-2 win in triple overtime Wednesday, but San Jose hardly seemed shaken by the defeat early in Game 4 as it built a 3-1 second-period lead on goals by Joe Thornton, Nils Ekman and Jonathan Cheechoo. Peca and Sergei Samsonov, though, pulled the Oilers to within one with goals less than three minutes apart in the second.
In the third, Jason Smith, Ales Hemsky and Jarret Stoll scored in the first 14 minutes as the Oilers surged past the Sharks and into a series tie.
Thornton, for one, agreed with Peca's assessment that the Sharks had allowed Game 4 to get away because they became complacent.
"We were guilty of trying to sit back and be comfortable with the lead," Thornton said.
Now Thornton and his teammates have to contend with a speedy Oilers club that has regained the swagger that helped it knock off the Red Wings in the first round.
"It gets them flying to San Jose feeling the same way that we did flying to Edmonton and realizing how important that next game is," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said of the Sharks. "It will be the first time in that game in San Jose we've had any opportunity in the series to take hold of it."
The Oilers' six goals and 35 shots in Game 4 were their highest output through three periods during these playoffs. They had 58 shots in the triple-OT win Wednesday, but managed only 44 combined in the first two games.
If Edmonton can earn a victory Sunday, it will come home with a chance to clinch its first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1992 on Wednesday night.
To do that, the Oilers will have to continue to solve the Sharks' Vesa Toskala.
San Jose's goaltender came into Friday's matchup with a 1.73 goals-against average, but made a crucial error when he came out of his crease to play the puck at the top of the right faceoff circle. He instead flipped the puck to Samsonov, who shot it into the open net to tie the game at 3-3.
"Everybody makes mistakes. It's a new game on Sunday," Toskala said. "I have been playing good for three or four months. I will not let one mistake at the blue line destroy my confidence."
San Jose may need to give it goalie more help offensively. Toskala's strong play helped the Sharks win the first two games despite scoring only two goals each time, but they couldn't overcome a third straight game with only two goals Wednesday, and seemed to have little chance to counter Edmonton's offensive outburst in Game 4. The Sharks managed only six shots in the third period.
San Jose is the highest remaining seed in the West at No. 5 and still has home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs, but hasn't scored more than three goals in six straight games. The team's power play is partly to blame, going 1-for-20 with the man advantage in this series.
Cheechoo, who led the league with 56 goals during the regular season, snapped a five-game drought Friday. The goal was only his second in 16 career games against the Oilers.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sharks - 5th seed; beat Nashville Predators 4-1, West quarterfinals. Oilers - 8th seed; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-2, West quarterfinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Patrick Marleau, 9 goals and 13 points; Tom Preissing and Thornton, 6 assists; Ville Nieminen, 24 PIM. Oilers - Fernando Pisani, 5 goals; Chris Pronger, 8 assists; Shawn Horcoff, Pronger and Samsonov, 9 points; Georges Laraque, 17 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 17.5 percent (10 for 57). Penalty killing: 82.0 percent (41 for 50). Oilers - Power play: 20.0 percent (11 for 55). Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (51 for 60).
GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Toskala (6-3, 1 SO, 2.11 GAA); Evgeni Nabokov (0-0, 5.00). Oilers - Dwayne Roloson (6-4, 2.27); Jussi Markkanen (no appearances).