Thanks to a hot start that saw five goals in the first period, the Oilers won the all-encompassing Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place by a score of 7-1, fittingly forcing Game 7 on Wednesday.
"Our season was on the line and I thought we played like it," said Mark Letestu, who ended the night with two goals and two assists. "If you ask me, that was a desperate group."
Leon Draisaitl was everything, registering his first career hat trick - the first playoff hat trick by an Oiler since Bill Guerin on April 18, 2000 - and two assists for a five-point night. He now has 16 points in 12 playoff games this season, good for second in the NHL behind Evgeni Malkin who has 17. In 11 games against the Ducks this season, Draisaitl has 21 points.
"Leon led the charge," said Letestu. "His first couple shifts, he picked up the puck at the top of the circle and you knew he was just determined to do something. I think getting those first two goals, he set the tone for the whole game."
Letestu was next in command, filing four points. Cam Talbot, meanwhile, was stellar, making 34 saves and getting a gutsy performance from the defensive core in front of him, who were without Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera. Their replacements were Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba. Reinhart chipped in an assist for his first career playoff point.
"You never want to lose guys and it's unfortunate that they (Klefbom and Sekera) missed the game tonight but we're a strong group and we believe in here," said Draisaitl about the defence. "No matter who comes in the lineup, we carry those guys and I think everyone throughout the whole lineup played good tonight."
Draisaitl started the party under three minutes into the game with his first of three goals. The Cologne, Germany native got a bounce in the neutral zone that sprung him on a breakaway. While in all alone, Draisaitl was hooked by Hampus Lindholm but the German's shot - although weak - slipped past John Gibson's 5-hole. Adam Larsson recorded the only assist for his fourth of the post-season.
Draisaitl picked up his second of the night at 7:22 to make it 2-0. Milan Lucic curled behind the Ducks' net, then made a centring pass. The puck got lost in Sami Vatanen's feet but Draisaitl tracked it and spun a backhander to beat Gibson 5-hole for the second time of the period. It was his fifth of the playoffs, with Lucic and Darnell Nurse registering the helpers.
At that point, Rogers Place was buzzing with cheers of "let's go Oilers," but it wasn't loud enough for Zack Kassian. He raised the decibel level with his third of the post-season - another 5-hole breakaway marker - prompted by an unbelievable backhand aerial pass from Letestu in the defensive zone to give the Oil a 3-0 lead. The goal chased Gibson out of the net. He finished the night with three saves on six shots.
"They got one early, then they got another one," said Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler. "Sometimes you can settle things down after a couple but once it gets to 3- or 4-, it's just impossible."
Gibson's replacement Jonathan Bernier couldn't curb Edmonton's offence, as Letestu greeted him with his first goal of the night quickly. A Kris Russell slap shot was stopped by Bernier but he appeared to lose sight of the puck, which was sitting in front of him. Letestu found it, then tried to pass it out front but the puck bounced back to him. The centre roofed it to give the Oilers a 4-0 lead.
With the game seemingly out of their hands, the Ducks sought to find a spark. They attempted to do so physically, as Drake Caggiula and Andrew Cogliano fought with four minutes remaining in the first. Both players received five-minute fighting majors.
Letestu got the Orange & Blue their fifth - and his fifth of the post-season - soon after on the power play. Edmonton distributed the puck masterfully, going from Draisaitl at the goal line to Matt Benning at the top of the key, then to Letestu in his office on the left side of the circle for a one-timer.
Edmonton led 5-0 after the first, outshooting the Ducks 16-8.
"They came out, they dominated in every facet of the game and we weren't ready," said Fowler.
Early in the week, Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said he believed intermissions were hampering his team's momentum. That did not happen in Game 6 between periods one and two as Anton Slepyshev made it 6-0 just 45 seconds into the middle frame.
On a 2-on-1 with Patrick Maroon, Big Rig feathered a pass gingerly over Brandon Montour's stick and right on Slepyshev's tape. The Russian made no mistake, placing the puck over Bernier's glove to score his third of the playoffs.
Rickard Rakell made it 6-1 at 8:56 of the second period. He received a heads-up pass from Corey Perry at the side of the net while Talbot lost an edge in his crease, giving the Ducks forward a wide-open net.
The Oil responded swiftly, with Draisaitl then completing his hat trick while Ryan Kesler was in the penalty box. Letestu threaded a cross-ice pass to Lucic. Lucic and Draisaitl then orchestrated a quick give-and-go, until Draisaitl capped the play with a one-timing blast to give the Oilers a 7-1 lead.
Asked if it was the biggest game of his life, Draisaitl was brief: "I would like to think so. The season was on the line and we all had to step it up a notch and the whole group did."
Edmonton scored seven goals without their regular season leading point scorer and captain Connor McDavid recording a point.
"That says we're a team," said McLellan. "There's no other way to put it. We just don't rely on Connor; we rely on the group as a whole."
After the outcomes of Games 4 and 5, the team felt the urgency to continue their season.
"We knew we had to keep our foot on the gas pedal and the Hockey Gods gave us a chance at Game 7," said Lucic.
Game 7 will be played Wednesday in Anaheim at the Honda Center.