SAN JOSE, CA - The Oilers have a tremendous opportunity in front of them tonight as they look to win Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks and punch their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Edmonton took a 3-2 series lead on home ice at Rogers Place on Thursday with a thrilling 4-3 overtime decision that saw them battle back from a 3-1 deficit late in the second period. Now, as they return to hostile territory at SAP Center, they will look to make it back-to-back wins and close out the Sharks, but they know it will not be an easy task.
"It's a big opportunity, but a big challenge as well," said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who has a goal and two assists in the series. "You always hear about that fourth game being the hardest to win. They're going to be at their best. They're going to be at their most desperate, so we need to expect that. They're going to play smart. They're going to play hard… We're going to have to match their compete and exceed that."
While momentum has been tough to maintain for both teams this series, the Oilers look to continue to perform the way they did in the third period and overtime in Game 5, as they rallied to tie it up, outshot the Sharks 14-2 in sudden death and ultimately generated the game-winner from David Desharnais.
"This is a big step for our group; we all know what's at stake tonight," said Patrick Maroon, who scored Edmonton's first goal in Thursday's victory. "This is a really good, veteran team over there. They're going to come out flying in the first 10 minutes, so we've got to match it and find ways to do what we did in overtime and the third period. We were relentless, getting pucks deep, throwing pucks to the pads, getting on our forecheck and winning our puck battles."
"We did a good job responding after being down a couple goals in Game 5," added Milan Lucic, who will suit up for his 107th career playoff game tonight. "We raised our level of play and that's the type of play we're going to need tonight. Maybe even a little more. They're a team with a lot of character and guys that want to win. It's definitely going to be the hardest game of the series tonight."
The Oilers had all four forward lines buzzing in Thursday's sudden-death period, getting the winner from the Pouliot-Desharnais-Slepyshev trio. That balanced attack is something they hope to replicate tonight.
"That's what the plan is, to keep everyone engaged and everybody finds a way to contribute," said Head Coach Todd McLellan. "All too often the top two lines neutralize each other and your third and fourth lines tend to rise or fall to the occasion. We were lucky to get ours performing in Game 5 and we need that here in Game 6."
The last Oilers road game in this series was not a pleasant experience as the Sharks rallied in front of their home crowd and exploded offensively en route to a dominant 7-0 decision. Edmonton was up in the series heading into that game as well, so they're fully aware of what can happen if they perform like they did in Game 4.
"We learned our lesson in Game 4 being comfortable with a series lead," Lucic said. "Hopefully we don't have to learn another lesson tonight."
"We know what they did to us in their barn last game," Maroon added. "We've got to find ways to put in a better effort."
The Oilers had struggled with their discipline heading into Game 4 and it reached a boiling point that night as they gave the Sharks eight power plays, four of which they converted on. Consequently, Edmonton played shorthanded just once in Game 5 and also got a power-play marker from Mark Letestu.
"We've shown what happens when you take a bunch of penalties," McDavid said. "The result was not good for us. We've got to stay out of the box."
The captain said the young Oilers squad has soaked up a lot of experience in the first five games that they hope they can use to their advantage to clinch the series tonight.
"We've definitely learned a lot of lessons," McDavid said. "This series has had it all, honestly. Tight games, blowouts, all the ups and downs. We've definitely learned a lot through the first five."
Based on the team's formations during their morning skate, no changes to the lineup are expected, so look for Drake Caggiula to stay with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while Patrick Maroon will play with Letestu and Zack Kassian.
Across the rink, the Sharks are expected to dress Joonas Donskoi in favour of Timo Meier up front. Donskoi has one assist in four games this series, while Meier has been held pointless in five.
-- Ryan Frankson, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (3-2) at SHARKS (2-3)
TV: 8:30 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet
Thursday was an incredible game from an Oilers fan's perspective. It had drama with a comeback from down two goals topped off by David Desharnais' overtime winner.
And now the task gets even harder. The Oilers square off tonight against the reigning Western Conference Champions and all the experience they possess with a chance to send them packing.
"It is the biggest challenge and the playoff pundits will tell you the toughest one to win is the final one," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan on Friday prior to departure for San Jose. "Teams that are playing right now have a very high belief system regardless of where they are in the series."
OILERS KEYS TO SUCCESS:
STAY OUT OF THE BOX: The Oilers did an excellent job staying out of the penalty box on Thursday night, granting the Sharks only one man advantage and that helped the team roll four lines, paying off with the fourth line getting the OT winner.
FAST START: San Jose is known for its fast starts, especially at home. The Oilers will need to do what it can to limit this.
PLAY PHYSICAL: San Jose will come out physical like they did in Game 4 at home. The Oilers have had a more physical game at Rogers Place through the series than on the road.
Edmonton: The Oilers are healthy with the exception of Tyler Pitlick, who's out for the season.
San Jose: The Sharks have no signfiicant injuries.
Edmonton has never lost a series where it won Game 5 of a series tied 2-2 and in terms of all series where the Oilers led three games to two, they are 11-1 with a Game 6 record of 7-5. San Jose is 1-10 when trailing a best-of-seven series three games to two and a record of 3-8 in Game 6.
Historically, the team leading three games to two with Game 6 on the road has a record of 111-103 (51.9%) in those games and has gone on to win the series 79% of the time (169-45).
The Oilers overtime 4-3 win over San Jose on Apr. 20, marked the 25th overtime win in Oilers playoff history, and first since Fernando Pisani scored in overtime to give the Oilers a 4-3 win over Carolina in game 5 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. The Oilers now have a 25-19 all-time overtime record in the playoffs.
"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 and we know they're going to have a push." -- Oilers head coach Todd McLellan
Oilers lead best-of-seven series 3-2
Apr 12:San Jose 3 at Edmonton 2 (OT) Apr 14: San Jose 0 at Edmonton 2 Apr 16:Edmonton 1 at San Jose 0 Apr 18: Edmonton 0 at San Jose 7 Apr 20: San Jose 3 at Edmonton 4 (OT) Apr 22: Edmonton at San Jose - 8:30 p.m. MDT Apr 24: San Jose at Edmonton - If Necessary
Edmonton won the season series this year 3-1-1
Dec 23: Edmonton 2 at San Jose 3 (OT) Jan 10:San Jose 5 at Edmonton 3 Jan 26:Edmonton 4 at San Jose 1 Mar 30: San Jose 2 at Edmonton 3 Apr 6:Edmonton 4 at San Jose 2
In 2006, Edmonton defeated San Jose 4 games to 2 in the only playoff match-up ever between the two teams
May 7: Edmonton 1 at San Jose 2 May 8: Edmonton 1 at San Jose 2 May 10: San Jose 2 at Edmonton 3 (3OT) May 12: San Jose 3 at Edmonton 6 May 14:Edmonton 6 at San Jose 3 May 17: San Jose 0 at Edmonton 2