ANAHEIM, CA - The Oilers were 3:26 away from pulling off a gusty, improbable victory in Game 5 against the Anaheim Ducks, but it wasn't meant to be on this night as the home team made an equally improbable third-period rally and won 4-3 in double overtime to go up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Despite losing one of their top defencemen early in the first period when Andrej Sekera left the game with an apparent lower-body injury, the Oilers rattled off three goals in the middle frame from Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Drake Caggiula, maintaining a 3-0 advantage into the waning minutes of regulation.
With a looming elimination game back in Edmonton staring them in the face, the Ducks dug deep and tied it up with goals from Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler and Rickard Rakell before Corey Perry scored 6:57 into the second sudden-death frame. Now, it will be the Oilers who must fight to keep their season alive on Sunday at Rogers Place.
"I thought it was a hell of a game on our behalf," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "We're all pissed off and we're down and we're allowed to feel those emotions right now. But we've got to come back with a game that's that much better at home, and we can do that. We've believed that we can play with this team since day one, so we'll go home and we'll regroup."
"You don't have to say much about that, it's definitely disappointing," added Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who had a goal and an assist during 35:43 TOI in the OT defeat. "It sucks, but we'll be back here Wednesday."
Wednesday would be the deciding Game 7 back in Orange County if the Oilers are indeed able to bounce back on home ice and give themselves a chance to avenge Friday's heart-breaker.
"We're still in this series going home," said Oilers winger Milan Lucic, who played 23:07 in the marathon matchup. "We've got to find a way win a game at home, come out with our best game and give ourselves the best chance to win."
Rakell's equalizer with 15 seconds left in regulation created plenty of controversy, as the Oilers felt Ryan Kesler impeded Cam Talbot's ability to make the save as he was sprawled in the crease. The officials reviewed the play but ultimately determined there wasn't enough evidence of goaltender interference to overrule the goal call on the ice.
"I don't know what interference is anymore," McLellan said. "Obviously Kesler was pushed in, there's no doubt about that. But we have a strong belief that he had wrapped his arm around Talbs' leg."
"It was a mad scramble, so obviously guys are going to end up at the net," McDavid added. "But I felt that Talbs didn't really have a chance to make the save. Ultimately, it's a tough call for the ref to make. He's ultimately deciding the game."
Despite the gripe over the non-call, the team is taking responsibility for the blown lead and looking forward to their shot at redemption.
"We had a 3-0 lead with three and a half minutes to go," said Talbot, who ended up setting a new franchise record for saves in a playoff game with 60. "We had every opportunity to win that game… Right now it's frustration and disappointment, but it's a race to four (wins) and they've only got three."
With Sekera unable to return to action, Adam Larsson played a whopping 44:58, while Kris Russell logged 32:39, Oscar Klefbom spent 32:21 on the ice, Darnell Nurse logged 29:44 and Matt Benning played 27:41. Larsson and Nurse were the only Oilers blueliners who didn't miss a shift due to an injury examination during the physical affair.
"Give them a lot of credit tonight, they battled hard," Talbot said of the defencemen in front of him. "Extremely gutsy… Any time you lose a guy like (Sekera) in the first period who plays 24-25 minutes a night, other guys have got to pick it up and those guys did an unbelievable job tonight."
Coach McLellan did not have an update on Sekera following the game. The team flies home on Saturday to begin preparing for Sunday's do-or-die Game 6.