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GAME: Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Edmonton Oilers.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference finals; Oilers lead 3-0.
TIME: Thursday, 8 p.m. EDT.
Six weeks ago, a home win over Anaheim helped the Edmonton Oilers sneak into the playoffs. Another victory over the Mighty Ducks at Rexall Place will propel them into the Stanley Cup finals.
The Oilers can clinch their first trip to the finals since 1990 and become the first No. 8 seed to play for the championship if they complete a four-game sweep of the Mighty Ducks in the Western Conference finals.
Edmonton did not wrap up a postseason berth until its 81st game, a 2-1 home win April 13 over Anaheim. That victory - coupled with a loss by the Vancouver Canucks - let the Oilers clinch the final playoff spot in the West.
While no eighth seed has played for the Stanley Cup since the playoff format was altered in 1994, Edmonton can become the first entrant into the finals by winning an eighth consecutive postseason game. The Oilers are riding their longest playoff win streak since an eight-game run in 1990, when the team won the last of its five championships.
"I always knew we had the determination, but maybe I underestimated the will that we had going into the playoffs once we got there," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "There's been a lot of games that we've willed ourselves into a position to win hockey games and done that. And you know, it hasn't always been the prettiest of play."
The Oilers put themselves in position for a sweep with Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the Ducks.
Edmonton built a four-goal lead 4:40 into the third period with a three-goal spurt in a 2:21 span, but barely salvaged the victory as Anaheim played with more desperation and also took advantage of an Oilers team ravaged by the flu.
"It just shows the character in the locker room," said defenseman Chris Pronger, whose power-play goal gave the Oilers a 4-0 lead. "Guys are doing whatever it takes, playing hurt, sick, whatever the case may be.
"We've got a chance to close them out Thursday but I'm sure they're going to have a lot to say about it."
Michael Peca, whose goal 2:19 into the third period gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead, assisted on Fernando Pisani's goal with 5:46 left that restored a two-goal lead. Peca, who was captain of the Buffalo Sabres when they reached the Finals in 1999, has scored in four consecutive games and provided immeasurable leadership in the locker room.
"You have to have somebody who can say the right things," said Oilers assistant coach Bill Moores. "He recognizes the importance of the times and has stepped forward."
Peca, who has five goals and three assists in a six-game playoff points streak, was coming off a miserable regular season in which he scored nine goals in 71 games, his lowest total since scoring six in the lockout-shortened 1995 season.
For the Mighty Ducks, the most daunting of playoff comebacks begins in a building that has been most daunting for them. To take the first step in being just the third team in NHL playoff history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit, they must first end a 13-game losing streak at Edmonton that dates back to Feb. 24, 1999.
"The guys in this room are not giving up," said former Oiler Todd Marchant. "We know that it is not an easy task to come from 3-0 down. But it has happened before and why not make history again? This group is not going to get down. We haven't quit one time this season and we are not going to quit this time either."
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders are the only teams in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.
There are reasons for optimism for the Ducks, who scored all four of their goals Tuesday in an 11-minute span of the third period after being held to two goals through the first two games of the series.
Teemu Selanne scored twice in Game 3, and thinks the frantic finish will lead to better things for Anaheim.
"Our goal scoring this year has been like a ketchup bottle," the Finnish right wing said. "It's hard to get it out sometimes but when it comes, it's going to come a lot. I feel like the momentum is on our side right now. We just have to carry that over next time."
If the Ducks stave off elimination, Game 5 will be Saturday at Anaheim. If the Oilers complete the sweep, they will begin the Stanley Cup finals at either Carolina or Buffalo.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mighty Ducks - 6th seed; beat Calgary Flames 4-3, quarterfinals; beat Colorado Avalanche 4-0, semifinals. Oilers - 8th seed; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-2, quarterfinals; beat San Jose Sharks 4-2, semifinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mighty Ducks - Selanne and Joffrey Lupul, 7 goals; Scott Niedermayer, 7 assists; Selanne, 12 points; Lupul, 31 PIM. Oilers - Pisani, 9 goals; Pronger, 11 assists; Pronger and Shawn Horcoff, 15 points; Georges Laraque, 27 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Mighty Ducks - Power play: 10.8 percent (9 for 83). Penalty killing: 88.0 percent (73 for 83). Oilers - Power play: 21.3 percent (18 for 83). Penalty killing: 88.4 percent (84 for 95).
GOALTENDERS: Mighty Ducks - Ilya Bryzgalov (6-4, 3 SO, 1.46 GAA); Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2-2, 3.88). Oilers - Dwayne Roloson (11-4, 2.13); Jussi Markkanen (no appearances).
|May 19 '06||EDM 3 at ANA 1|
|May 21 '06||EDM 3 at ANA 1|
|May 23 '06||ANA 4 at EDM 5|
|May 25 '06||ANA 6 at EDM 3|
|May 27 '06||EDM 2 at ANA 1|
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