Sharks stay confident despite Oilers' playoff pressure

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Joe Thornton figured his first playoff run with the San Jose Sharks had been almost too easy. Two tough losses in Edmonton brought the big center back to postseason reality.

Yet the NHL's regular-season scoring champion believes the Sharks can overcome those consecutive defeats to get back to the Western Conference finals, even though the Oilers head into Game 5 on Sunday night on a wave of momentum while San Jose is scrambling.

"That's never in our heads, that we're going to lose the series," Thornton said Saturday. "You lose two games. So what? We've got to come out and win Game 5. You lose a couple, and you just get back on the horse."

The fifth-seeded Sharks won the first two games of the series, both by 2-1 margins, while playing a tenacious, disciplined game. They lost both their discipline and tenacity just long enough in Edmonton for two defeats: A 3-2 triple-overtime heartbreaker in Game 3, followed by a 6-3 loss Friday night in which they blew a two-goal lead for the first time all season.

After winning six consecutive playoff games over the first two rounds, their best-of-seven series is even at two games apiece.

The Sharks are the highest-seeded remaining team left in the West, and coach Ron Wilson hopes the resulting home-ice advantage will refocus his team while causing problems for the eighth-seeded Oilers, who seem ready to take control of the series. San Jose has lost just twice at home in regulation in more than three months.

With so many new additions and rookies in his lineup since the Sharks' extended playoff run in 2004, Wilson isn't certain how the new mix will react to its first postseason adversity. But after watching the Sharks' eight consecutive victories down the regular-season stretch to earn a playoff berth, the coach is fairly confident.

Wilson has resisted any urge to panic, sticking with Vesa Toskala in goal and preaching consistency to his club despite two disappointing results. After all, the Sharks had been nearly flawless in the postseason until Edmonton grabbed two wins at home.

What's more, Thornton hit the post in overtime of Game 3 and then barely missed a chance to put San Jose up 4-1 in Game 4.

"Like Joe said after the game, we're two posts away from this series maybe being over," Wilson said. "We've got a pretty resilient group, and Edmonton is, too. It certainly seems like it's going to be a home-ice type of a series, and we hope that's true."

While the Sharks are striving to stay confident, the Oilers are back on an emotional high similar to the push they got from beating the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in six first-round games. With veterans Chris Pronger and Michael Peca making big contributions around their young teammates, Edmonton is halfway to its own shocking trip to the Western Conference finals.

The Oilers grabbed Game 4 by rallying against Toskala, who had been outstanding throughout his first playoff run. His atrocious misplay on a loose puck shortly after a power play allowed Sergei Samsonov to score the tying goal into an empty net Friday.

Wilson pulled the Finnish goalie after Edmonton went up 5-3 but said Toskala will return to the net for Game 5.

The Sharks also hope rookie forward Milan Michalek will be back after missing both Edmonton games. Michalek, a key part of the Sharks' powerful second line with captain Patrick Marleau, apparently injured his eye on a nasty check by Raffi Torres late in Game 2.

San Jose held only a short practice Saturday. Game 6 is back in Edmonton on Wednesday night.

"I don't think we've lost any confidence, because we were really close to winning both of those games," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "We had a lead late in both of them. We had plenty of chances to win [Game 3] in overtime, and we could have been up 4-1 [in Game 4]. We don't lose any confidence because of that."