HURRICANES NOW ONE GAME AWAY
EDMONTON -- Advantage Carolina.
Thanks to Monday night's taut 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, the Carolina Hurricanes are one win away from winning the 2006 Stanley Cup.
With the victory, built on goals by Mark Recchi and Cory Stillman, and a swarming defensive effort that again featured excellent goaltending from Cam Ward, the Hurricanes can win the Stanley Cup Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) at the RBC Center in Raleigh.
While boosted by the impressive road victory, the Hurricanes are well aware that Wednesday's game will be the toughest to win in what has become a marathon season for the Hurricanes.
"This is going to be the toughest game we face now going home," Stillman said. "We need to come out and we need to be better. This is going to be the toughest game for us, the one that closes the series. And you know what? We're looking forward to doing that on home ice."
Knowing they will be returning to a frenzied atmosphere, Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said he wasn't concerned with his teammates being caught up in what will be a wild crowd Wednesday night.
"That's the one thing about this hockey club all year," Brind'Amour said. "We're just kind of focused on the next game and I think it's good that it comes right away. There's not a couple days in between like we had. You fly all day and we're right there, it's game day. In essence, that's probably better."
The Hurricanes jumped to a 2-1 lead at 15:56 of the second period, taking advantage of an Oilers' turnover by defenseman Chris Pronger that resulted in a goal by Recchi.
Stillman, who opened the scoring for the Hurricanes in the first period, knocked the puck away from Pronger and it came to Eric Staal in the slot. He spotted Recchi down low on the left side and the pass connected, with Recchi lifting the puck over the outstretched arm of Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen.
"I was the third guy high and 'Stiller' did a good job pressing Pronger and kind of got a stick on the puck as Pronger tried to make a pass and kind of deflected it," said Staal, who assisted on both Carolina goals. "It's a good thing I'm eight-feet tall and I caught it and then put it down. I knew Rex was kind of back door, I just tried to make a move and throw it back there to him."
Staal's move worked like a charm and gave the 'Canes a lead they would protect for the remainder of the game.
The Oilers' struggling power play was the culprit for Edmonton, failing five times in the game. The Oilers' power play is now 1-for-25 in the series.
"I thought we started the game really well, moved the puck well, and then we were the beneficiary of a number of power plays and lost some momentum through those power plays," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "And then again we're in the same situation as we were in the first game where we got a five-on-three, a lengthy five-on-three, and you know, I don't know that we had a shot on goal. Might have had one shot on goal on the five-on-three. Then we started to get frustrated and the power plays kept coming and we got away from the structure that had made us a pretty formidable power play through the first three series.
"I thought we lost the momentum and then it was just a product of, again, not getting outplayed, but just getting out-capitalized and they capitalized on their chances."
The failure of the power play in the Final clearly has the Oilers frustrated -- and with good reason. A two-man advantage for 1:12 in the first period provided the perfect opportunity for Edmonton to break a 1-1 tie, but the Oilers were once again denied.
"The penalty kill has been huge for us, no question," Brind'Amour said. "We're getting too many penalties. We talked about it, we didn't want to do that, and we walked into the same thing as the other night. Fortunately for us, our penalty kill has been great and our best penalty killer has been great, and that's our goaltender.
"It's not the recipe to do it, but we got through it."
"We have got to get back to doing and executing at the same level and we have had trouble with the pressure from Game 1, and it's the reason why we are down 3-1 in the series," MacTavish said. "If we got a couple power-play goals in the series, a couple more power-play goals, we're at least tied, at least tied.
"We have been down this road before with our power play, where we start to get frustrated and then you lose your patience on the power play. You take your first opportunity, and when you are on top of your game on the power play, you don't take a mediocre opportunity when you are in your set-up. You have got the patience to explore a better quality chance. And now our first chance to shoot the puck, we shoot it whether there's shin pads there or not. I saw some better signs in the second period on the power play, we did some things better in the second period and didn't get a power play in the third, but it's the reason we're in the situation we're in right now, being down 3-1."
The pre-game intention of the Oilers was to lay the body on the Hurricanes. Carolina wanted to open the game up and trade chances. To varying degrees both teams succeeded in the 1-1 first period.
The Oilers put quite the hit parade on the 'Canes in the opening moments, prompting the crowd to raise the decibel even higher than normal.
That noise level rocketed even higher at 8:40 when Sergei Samsonov converted a nice passing sequence with Radek Dvorak to give the Oilers the lead.
Samsonov gained the Carolina end and passed to Dvorak on the left side before then breaking to the slot. Dvorak's backhand pass found the tape of Samsonov's stick and he slipped the puck to the far side, eluding Cam Ward's glove.
As the crowd roared, the ensuing faceoff was dropped, and so was Justin Williams, with Edmonton's Raffi Torres taking a seat in the penalty box for tripping at 8:57.
Twelve seconds later, the game was tied, as Stillman blasted a shot from the right circle past Markkanen at 9:09.
Stall keyed the scoring sequence with a pass to defenseman Frantisek Kaberle on the left side. He sent a bouncing cross-ice pass to Stillman, who corralled the puck and fired the puck past Markkanen's glove.
"They came out and scored against us first," Stillman said. "This time we got an opportunity and I scored. We had a chance last game with Willie (Jason Williams) having a breakaway and it silenced the crowd a bit and allowed us to get back into the hockey game."
It wasn't long before the Hurricanes started taking regular trips to the penalty box, first Andrew Ladd was called for tripping Shawn Horcoff at 10:04. Ray Whitney was called for hooking at 13:08 and then was sent back to the box for hooking for 15:35. When Aaron Ward was boxed for high sticking at 16:23, the Oilers had a golden 5-on-3 power play for 1:12.
Cam Ward made stops on a Pronger drive and a Smyth deflection, but the Edmonton power play was still struggling mightily, and nearly surrendered a shorthanded goal when Whitney came out of the box and drove in on Markkanen. The Edmonton goalie made the save and also stopped a drive from Kevyn Adams on the rebound.
"We have got to be more determined in front of the net, because quite clearly, they are protecting that area in front of net and they are boxing us out and we're not going to the net with enough conviction," MacTavish said. "And you know, the point shots and then we get opportunity on the points shots and we're not getting it in the right area, even when we hit the net it's not in the right area. And we had a few that were in the right area, at least in the upper half of the net, and they ended up hitting him (Ward) in the stomach."
Both coaches face formidable tasks now.
MacTavish outlined what he has to do with the Oilers and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette has to keep his team from thinking too far ahead.
"You know what, the only thing I have been thinking about is this game right now," Laviolette said. "We put an awful lot of emphasis on this game tonight. I asked my team to do the same thing. We worried about this and only this. We get tonight to move on and to focus on the next one."