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Desperate Sharks determined to rally against Oilers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Desperation is like an old jersey for the San Jose Sharks. They wore it for nearly three months while fighting to make the postseason, so it wasn't difficult to put it on again when facing playoff elimination this week.

In fact, coach Ron Wilson thinks desperation is an excellent fit for his young club -- but if he's wrong, a roller-coaster season is over.

The Sharks are down 3-2 in their second-round playoff series after three consecutive losses to the Edmonton Oilers, who can earn the franchise's first trip to the Western Conference finals since 1992 with a home win Wednesday night.

"We've been an underdog all year," Wilson said after practice Tuesday. "We've been so far behind, we got lapped. We've been in this position so many times that we're kind of immune to it."

And as Wilson pointed out to his players, a 3-2 series lead hardly guarantees a pass to the next round: In the last six playoff seasons, a whopping 15 teams have rallied from that deficit to win a series.

Five of the last six NHL champions did it, including the Tampa Bay Lightning's dramatic Stanley Cup finals rally in 2004 -- and four of those five champs had to win a Game 6 on the road to stay alive in the playoffs.

If the fifth-seeded Sharks are a championship-caliber team, as Wilson firmly believes, they must do the same to force a decisive Game 7 in San Jose on Friday night.

"It happens every year, and it hasn't happened yet this year," Wilson said. "We'll be ready, and we'll throw everything we have at Edmonton, and if they win, we'll stand back and applaud them ... but I think our guys will get it done."

The Sharks' whole season was about roaring from behind. They floundered early in the year, even after Joe Thornton arrived in a trade with Boston, and were in 10th place in the conference standings with less than two weeks left in the regular season before eight straight wins catapulted them into fifth.

They played thrilling hockey, but were profoundly streaky -- and they've been spotty in the playoffs again, following up six consecutive wins over Nashville and Edmonton with three losses in five days.

The Sharks certainly didn't seem to be under pressure during an hour-long practice Tuesday before their flight to Edmonton. The mood on the ice was light and convivial, with Thornton flipping pucks at backup defenseman Rob Davison while several players accused each other of breaking a glass pane.

"Well, it's supposed to be fun," said Jonathan Cheechoo, who has goals in the past two games after a five-game drought. "We're going to try to stick with what's worked for us out there. I think it helps to leave some of the pressure [on the ice] and not think about the game so much."

Cheechoo enjoys playing at Rexall Place because of the good ice, the energizing crowd and the memories: He saw his first NHL games in Edmonton as a 6-year-old in 1986, traveling from his father's school in Saskatchewan to see Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri as they beat Montreal and Los Angeles.

Gretzky and Messier rarely faced the power-play drought plaguing the Sharks, who are 2-for-27 against the Oilers with a bumbling man-advantage attack that's completely regressed to its struggles before Thornton teamed up with Cheechoo and captain Patrick Marleau. Edmonton's defense constantly crowds Thornton with defenders, even when the Oilers are shorthanded.

"We've got to be more committed to setting up in front of their net, and I've just got to present myself to the puck better, be ready to shoot at all times," said Cheechoo, whose ever-ready shot generated an NHL-best 56 goals in the regular season.

San Jose's defense hasn't been much better in the last two games, with countless small mistakes by the six rookies in its regular playoff lineup. Goalie Vesa Toskala has allowed 11 goals in the last two games, getting pulled in Game 4 and stopping just 12 shots in Game 5 -- but Wilson plans to stick with the ever-calm Finnish netminder.

"I don't need any brain doctors to handle this type of situation," Toskala said. "It's going to be fine."

Thornton, the NHL scoring champion, has two goals and three assists in the series despite "playing in a phone booth" because of the Oilers' pressure, according to defenseman Kyle McLaren. But at the end of a crazy first season with his new team, Thornton thinks the Sharks have the toughness and smarts to make one more turn away from the brink of disaster.

"They've been real good at home in the playoffs, and we have to put up a better fight their building," Thornton said. "We didn't put up too big of a fight in the last two games. I don't know what you've got to do, but just grab whatever confidence you can get and just go out and play the game of your life."