The Edmonton Oilers are locked in a tight Stanley Cup finals series with the Carolina Hurricanes. Yet, to watch the upstarts from the Western Conference on Friday, it would have been hard to tell they were the ones trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven matchup.
"I am exhausted. I can't even answer your question. I am too tired," said Pronger, who has a team-high 21 points while averaging a staggering 31:11 of ice time in 22 postseason games on defense.
When they last left Alberta, the eighth-seeded Oilers were down 3-1 and a loss away from the end of their season. They headed to Raleigh, where the Hurricanes posted the best home record in the East.
Most figured the Cup would be raised down in Dixie and that "Dora The Explorer" would be able to keep her weekend dates at Rexall Place.
Not so fast. A 4-3 Edmonton win in overtime of Game 5 changed all that faster than the childhood icon could say, "Adios."
"The guys are on a high right now," said Smyth, who didn't have to answer another question once Pronger took the stage next to him. "We want to ride that, no question. We know it's no going to be an easy task."
The Western champs are still facing elimination, but the fun they had on a second consecutive off day revealed a team that was loose and ready for their next do-or-die showdown Saturday night.
Pronger was asked if it would've been better for the Oilers to have played Friday night to capitalize on the momentum gained by Wednesday's win instead of getting an extra day's rest.
His deadpan response: "Well, we'll find out tomorrow," which broke up Smyth and the rest of the room.
For the second time in the series, the Oilers are a home win away from getting even with the Hurricanes. Game 4 didn't work out so well, but Edmonton is embracing the second chance it'll have in Game 6. Fernando Pisani's shorthanded goal in overtime on Wednesday in North Carolina saved the series and breathed life into the Oilers.
"You can't get too confident," said Pisani, who has an NHL-leading 12 playoffs goals after scoring 18 during the regular season. "We're still down 3-2 and they are still in the driver's seat right now. At the same time, we've got to keep levelheaded and make sure that we're ready to play once the puck drops."
Edmonton allowed three power-play goals in regulation of Game 5, so once Steve Staios was sent to the penalty box early in overtime there was every reason to believe the Oilers would be cleaning out their lockers Friday instead of still talking about the possibilities of a championship.
"We felt really good about ourselves and what we accomplished. I think the way we performed in practice today was a product of that," forward Michael Peca said. "That's just a great sign that our heads are in a great place right now.
"We know that we've gained some confidence from last game. We feel good about where our game is going and we feel that we're just going to get better," he said.
That might be more than just talk. Outside of No. 1 goalie Dwayne Roloson, who was knocked out of the series by a knee injury in the opener, the Oilers have no discernible injuries.
As the games have mounted, so has the physical punishment delivered by Edmonton -- especially by relentless hitter Raffi Torres.
The left winger joined Pronger in sandwiching Doug Weight, a hit that knocked the Carolina forward out of the third period of Game 5 and will keep him sidelined at least until a potential seventh game in Raleigh on Monday night.
That crushing blow was the second one handed out by Torres on Wednesday. Earlier, he drilled Aaron Ward and left him dazed to the
point that he was forced to sit out a good chunk of the game. Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said early on that body shots build up and often pay dividends later in series.
"We want to continue to play that physical style of hockey. Get the pucks in deep and make sure they pay the price every time they go back and touch the puck," Pronger said. "Until we are able to win, it's all forethought.
"We have to go out and win Game 6 before we can start talking about the next step," he said.