The final showdown
CBC SPORTS ONLINE: After a six-month regular-season
and 14 playoff series, the Stanley Cup playoffs are about to reach
their climax. Of the 30 teams who started on the journey, only two
remain the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes.
June 20th: After Game 7
Check back for regular updates during the final series.
On our Stanley Cup final panel we have: representing Canada West,
Oiler fan Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com;
representing USA West, Patrick Angello of Colorado Avalanche Blog
and, representing USA East, Hurricanes supporter David Lee of Red
and Black Hockey (redblackhockey.blogspot.com).
Quite an entertaining Game 7. It was even enough that it could have gone either way. These decisive games can often end up being a let-down, but we got great hockey at both ends of the rink and a pretty fitting conclusion to an entertaining season.
David, congratulations. What a season for the 'Canes. I think you said you were going to the game. Can you give us a sense of what it was like seeing your team win the Cup in person? What was the scene at the arena and outside? Any interesting incidents?
Tyler, my condolences. I know this is cold comfort, but what a run by the Oilers. Any final thoughts on the improbable march to the final? Also, looking ahead to next year, what can we expect from Edmonton? Are they poised for a better regular season? A worse one? What do you think/hope the Oilers will do in the offseason?
Well, it was a fantastic run but the ending was a bit lacking. This was a team that could seemingly pull aces from the deck just when they needed them most - it happened all year long, happened all through the playoffs, but last night, when Pisani had that opportunity with just under four minutes to go, he couldn't do it.
For people who are casual Oilers fans, I'm sure that this whole experience was fantastic; for the people who are more obsessive followers of the team, as fun as it was, when we're watching the Oilers lose a game in the middle of next season in Columbus or something, I'm sure that the mind will drift back to thinking about what almost was in Game 7.
My thinking is that the Oilers will have a much better regular season next year. I thought all along that they were a very good team with lousy goaltending. The goaltending will be better and for all the talk about Edmonton sneaking into the playoffs because the Canucks collapsed, if the Oilers had received any sort of NHL-calibre goaltending during the regular season, Vancouver's collapse would have just been a bad week by a team that was already dead and buried. I trust that Lowe will find a competent goalie in the offseason and that's the main concern.
A lot of the guys who were stalwarts on this team are probably soon to be gone - Michael Peca, Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov, Fernando Pisani and Dwayne Roloson are all going to be offered more money than is wise by someone, and Kevin Lowe probably won't be the guy making the offer. It's going to be a different-looking Oilers team next season but they have enough solid core players and enough money to spend that I expect them to ice another good team.
You can never expect something like the Oilers playoff run, though, with a 30-team league and as much parity as there is. I expect the Oilers to be good enough next year to have it happen again but I don't expect it to actually happen. They'll assemble the team, put in place what fixes they can for the holes over the course of the season and then, when the playoffs start, find out if they can find a way to get the breaks and the bounces for another year. Hopefully they can, but only a fool would expect it to happen.
June 18th: After Game 6
How quickly fortunes can change, eh? On Wednesday almost everyone had the Oilers written off. Now, days later, they've won two straight, including a convincing 4-0 win in Game 6. Will Edmonton's roll continue through Game 7, or can the Hurricanes forget the past two games and regroup in time to stop the bleeding?
If you were to go by Game 6, it would be tough to like Carolina's chances. The Hurricanes were badly outshot, outplayed and outscored and looked like they hardly wanted to be in Edmonton. How much of that had to do with the heartbreaking defeat in Game 5 in Carolina, where the Hurricanes had a chance to win the Cup but lost in OT, and then had to make the cross-continent trip to noisy Rexall Place?
I guess the big controversy in Game 6 was the decision by Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette to start Erik Cole, who hadn't played in months due to a neck injury. How much (if at all) do you reckon this affected Carolina's performance in Game 6?
And, finally, how are you guys feeling about Game 7 on Monday? Speak now or forever hold your peace.
First of all, full marks to Stephen Harper for not wearing an Oilers jersey to the game. Given his notorious support of the Flames and Maple Leafs, it would have looked terribly opportunistic to show up at the game wearing an Oilers jersey. I remember Paul Martin appearing in Calgary wearing a Flames jersey in 2004 - by not giving in to the temptation to show up in an Oilers jersey, Harper has probably avoided accusations that the Tories are stealing Liberal policy on bandwagon jumping. Just a smart move on his part.
As for Carolina's performance, I'm reminded of a game that the Oilers played at the end of the season. The Oilers went into St. Louis for their 79th game of the season. It was essentially a must-win game for the Oilers, who were life and death for a playoff spot. Edmonton was terrible for the first 40 minutes, showed up for the third period and ended up losing the game 2-1.
After that game, fans were screaming that MacTavish had lost the dressing room, that any number of players needed to be benched, that Dwayne Roloson was a bad acquisition, that the team lacked heart - basically, every criticism that can be made of a team was lobbed at the Oilers. As it turned out, that was nothing more than a bad night. If you looked at the situation dispassionately, there was a lot of evidence that the Oilers had a good team. There's a lot of evidence that the Hurricanes are a good team and, ordinarily, I'd expect them to put forth a much better effort in Game 7.
I'm not sure that this was just a bad night for Carolina, though - they're starting to just look like they're too physically beat up to compete at the level that the Oilers are able to compete at. Edmonton's loss in Game 1 was a lot more devastating than Carolina's Game 5 loss, I thought - losing Roloson and then losing the game on a horrible play behind the net. Their effort in Game 2 was a lot better than Carolina's effort in Game 6 - the Oilers were very competitive in that game through the first 39:30.
Carolina seemed like they couldn't step up their game to match Edmonton in Game 6 and, given the importance of the game, I don't think that their problems had anything to do with their willingness to compete.
I don't think that the presence of Erik Cole affected Carolina much in Game 6 other than he had a couple of scoring chances early that were bumbled away - you wonder, if there'd been someone else on the ice during the power play who'd played in the past three months, whether those chances would have been buried. I thought that he played a good game and adding players like him to your lineup can only help your team - it's just a shame that the rest of the Hurricanes were so bad.
Looking ahead to Game 7, I expect an Oilers win. Only twice since expansion has a team without home ice advantage gone down 3-1 in the finals and then pushed it to a seventh game - the 1994 Canucks and 1987 Flyers. Both of those teams lost Game 7. In both of those cases, though, there were two days between Games 6 and 7. This year there's only one. Carolina looks like they could desperately use a few days off at the moment and, without that, I kind of think that they'll look similar to the way that they did in Game 6.
Truth be told, I don't expect it to be much of a game - this isn't a shot at Carolina's willingness to compete, only their ability to do so. When Edmonton was losing games earlier in this series, they weren't getting beat the way that Carolina did in Game 6. The only realistic way that I can see Carolina winning Game 7 is if there's a huge disparity in penalties in their favour or if the Oilers goaltending is terrible.
In addition to looking less banged up, Edmonton has a decided edge in the mojo department heading into Game 7. Every time Calgary has made the Stanley Cup final, Edmonton has won the Stanley Cup the following season. This won't be the year that things change - Edmonton will win 4-1, with Oiler goals coming from Dvorak, Pisani (Edmonton's Paul Henderson will score his third game-winner in a row), Smyth and Hemsky.
Brind'Amour will score for Carolina, but it won't be enough as Chris Pronger will take the Conn Smythe, the riots on Whyte Avenue will be happy as opposed to sad and Calgary will be reminded once again of the eternal truth in Albertan sport - Edmonton is better at everything.
I don't have any idea what happened in Game 6. The Canes were terrible. This has been said a million different times by a million different people, but it's almost a good thing to have lost like that. It's easier to bounce back after a pounding than it is after a closely-played loss.
To a man, the team is embarrassed by their performance Saturday. They know that they let each other down, let "the team" down, let the coaches down, let the fans down.
Not only will they be given a chance to redeem themselves, but they'll have that chance at home. I don't think they'll have a repeat performance of Saturday's game.
Both teams have performed badly in one game. Both teams have lost one other game because of a stupid mistake. The other two games were both 2-1 games. I think we should expect to see another one of the close games. I hope so, anyway.
Although he didn't do anything to hurt us, inserting Cole into the lineup didn't provide the magic that everyone assumed would be there. I was a bit worried that he was putting himself at risk, and I'm still worried, but he seemed to respond well to the hits on Saturday (his post-game comments notwithstanding).
I can't make a prediction other than that my wretched beard will be shaved in the parking lot of the RBC Center as soon as I exit the building.
June 15th: After Game 5
What a terrific game. I thought it was the best of the series - there was action at both ends throughout, even in the third period where Edmonton had only five shots on net and Carolina two. It's a little strange that all three games in Raleigh have been more free-flowing and high-scoring, while the games in Edmonton have been low-scoring and generally not as exciting. Simple coincidence or is there something to that?
Now, what can we expect on Saturday? The knee-jerk reaction right now seems to be that the Oilers will win because they'll be playing in front of their raucous home crowd. But the road team has won the past two games and I think home-ice advantage (particularly for Edmonton) has, as usual, been overrated throughout the series.
Guys - your thoughts on Game 5 and how you see the rest of the series playing out.
I think the way Game 5 ended could have been a crushing blow to Carolina. But it won't. I think it will serve as a wake-up call. With a few exceptions, they looked like they thought they could "go through the motions" and skate to the Cup. That notion was put to rest quickly, and although Carolina snapped back, they never really played all that great.
The power play was great, and the penalty kill continued to shine, but there were some lapses. Particularly by the defensemen. In a number of cases, guys like Kevyn Adams had to pitch in defensively more so than usual. It was a little frustrating.
I figured that whoever was awarded the first power play would win the game, and I got very excited when Carolina was given one. However, they never got a chance to set up. Not to take away from the Edmonton team, but at that precise moment in specific, the 'Canes were lazy. The turnover and subsequent shorthanded game-winner were largely the result of laziness, coupled with Pisani's keen awareness of it. Full marks to him for both of his goals.
I'm hoping that the long break between Games 5 and 6 will cancel any momentum shift. I'm also hoping that the 'Canes will play more like they need it than they "kinda want it." If the 'Canes come out on Saturday and play with some renewed focus and drive, and if they can continue to be stellar on special teams, they should win the game despite Edmonton's home-ice advantage.
It's still do or die for the Oilers, though. Carolina is likely to have a slightly different lineup on Saturday because of injuries, so this may tilt the ice slightly to Edmonton. On the other side, Eric Staal came out of his goal-scoring "slump" in a big way last night. That may tilt it to Carolina. Any number of things could be a difference-maker for either team.
Nobody wants the tension of a Game 7, so I hope the 'Canes can go up there and win. Nobody wants to watch the visiting team skate to the Cup, so both teams will have that dangling over their heads.
Although it really hasn't been the case in this series, I'll go ahead and guess that the first period on Saturday will be the key. Both teams will come out firing on all cylinders, and I'll predict that whoever scores first wins.
Horrible turnover. This lost opportunity could be devastating for Carolina. You never know what could happen in a game 7, so they better come out strong on Saturday.
Looking ahead to Game 6, the two-day layoff favours the Hurricanes. I think. There was a lot of media discussion Thursday night about how they looked to be in rough shape as they left the RBC Center. It would be only human to spend a lot of time thinking about how exciting it was going to be to win the Stanley Cup on your home ice. To go from that to a flight back across the continent to Edmonton, with Doug Weight out and Aaron Ward looking banged up is a pretty tough trip to make.
ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons wrote about the concept of a Dead Man Walking flight a few years ago, meaning a flight that a team is taking to a game that there's not a chance of winning. It generally involves a gut-wrenching loss followed by a flight to your opponent's city. I'm not sure how devastating that Game 5 loss was to the Hurricanes, who came back in a far tougher situation against the Montreal Canadiens, but if we use that small child who was shown in tears after the game as a barometer, this was a pretty tough loss.
In terms of things in favour of the Oilers looking to Game 6, there are a lot to point to. The Matt Greene Festival of Penalties has become a real problem - one Oiler blogger suggested after the game that Charlie Huddy should have reached around with a chloroform-soaked rag after Greene came back to the bench following his second penalty instead of offering the consoling pat on the back.
If MacTavish chooses to dress Greene in Game 6, they can at least hide
him from the more dangerous Hurricane players and try to limit the opportunities
for him to grab onto someone blowing past him or outmuscling him down
low. If they're scared that Bergeron will maim someone or take to actually
shooting at Jussi, I'd rather see Igor Ulanov (the only Oiler with his
own fan club, at http://igorulanovfanclub.blogspot.com
dressed, although it might be a little late in the day for that particular
The crowd is obviously going to be bananas, something that won't hurt the Oilers. I've never understood why the crowd is taken as a positive for one team, though, and a negative for the other - if it's a loud, exciting atmosphere it should give each side a boost. I'm sure that Cam Ward is going to be hearing it, though, if he lets in an early goal. The crowd is going to be wild no matter what but I think that the only way it will affect anyone in a disproportionately negative way is if Ward is letting in goals. And if Ward is letting in goals, it doesn't matter if the crowd gets to him - the Oilers win (assuming that Bad Jussi doesn't show up).
I don't think that there's much to the fact that the games in Edmonton have been tightly played so far while there's been some high-scoring games in Carolina. There was no real tendency on the part of either team this season to play in higher- or lower-coring games at home versus on the road. Carolina had 270 goals scored by both sides in their home games and 268 in their road games, while the Oilers had 251 goals scored in their home games and 240 goals scored in their road games. Just a coincidence, I think. I do think that home ice will matter, though - as I mentioned above, MacTavish can get the matchups he wants, which favours the Oilers.
I'm fairly optimistic after Game 5. I like the Oilers' chances in Game 6 because they're at home and because of the manner in which the Hurricanes lost Game 5 - losing when they had a PP in OT. The loss of Doug Weight hurts their depth and their PP.
Others have noted that many Carolina players have fallen silent as the series has gone on, notably Justin Williams and Andrew Ladd. Obviously, anything can happen, but I like the Oilers' chances of pushing this series into a seventh game.
June 13th: After Game 4
Kind of a strange game for the Oilers. Markkanen played his best game of the series - the two goals he allowed came on nice plays and he even made some legitimate "I didn't think he's get that" stops, including that terrific glove save on Brind'Amour - but Edmonton's skaters couldn't get a whole lot going. And the Oilers power play continued to struggle mightily.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes played a pretty airtight game, especially in the third when they bottled the Oilers up as Edmonton was looking for a tying goal. That's one of the things Carolina doesn't get credit for - they're known as this run 'n' gun team, but they've got a lot of good skaters that have shown in the playoffs they can, at times, adapt their skills to shut down opponents. David, think the 'Canes will wrap it up Wednesday? Tyler, do the Oilers have another win in them?
What's really strange about this series is how things have panned out not quite as expected. Going in, everyone talked about the defence of Edmonton and their penalty killing prowess. They said Dwayne Roloson's experience would trump Cam Ward's hot hand. Everyone expected the series to be a special teams battle. To some extent it has, but just not in the anticipated fashion.
It has indeed been Carolina's "Brand X" defense, more so than Edmonton's "Leading Name Brand" defence, that has been outstanding. The Hurricanes have limited Edmonton's opportunities, kept mistakes to a minimum, and have usually been there to snatch up rebounds in front of their own net. All this while doing a decent job of staying out of the box. Meanwhile, Edmonton's blue-liners have made some key mistakes and have put themselves in the box too much.
One huge story has been the penalty killing of Carolina. They struggled in that department during the regular season, and were mediocre through the first three rounds of the playoffs. However, something clicked, and they have been stellar (so far) in the final, allowing only one PP goal all series.
Another huge story has been the goaltending. After the Roloson injury, few people had any faith in "Conkkanen," but Jussi Markkanen has been amazing -particularly in Game 3, when he allowed just one goal and withstood a good deal of sustained pressure by the Canes. In Game 4, even though he took the loss, he kept the Oilers in the game with a ton of highlight-reel saves. Quite a pleasant surprise for them.
On the other side, there's Cam Ward. I don't really know what to say. He's been nothing short of awesome. What Carolina fans already knew, and what the rest of the hockey world is finding out, is that this kid is rock solid - calm and perfectly in control. In that respect, he's reminiscent of Grant Fuhr. In fact, aside from the fact that Ward is white, right-handed and plays a completely different style, he's almost exactly like Grant Fuhr.
After Game 4, I think Carolina should be able to finish it off at home. Both teams were surely physically drained, but I sense that Edmonton was also drained emotionally. With a lot of traveling, a delayed flight, and a very short turnaround from Monday night to
Wednesday night, they'll have to find new depths in the "dig deep" bag. Carolina, meanwhile, will be rejuvenated by the raucous home crowd, the coaching advantages of home ice, the Cup dangling in front of them, and the opportunity to sleep in their own beds.
Edmonton will surely be aggressive. They have nothing to lose at this point. Carolina will have to be a patient, better driver.
I guess that if this series is to continue, and Edmonton is given too many power play chances, they'll finally convert some of those. With that in mind, Carolina will have to be disciplined. When they find themselves at the disadvantage, they will need to keep up the excellent work.
I'm really excited for the game. Good luck.
June 11th: After Game 3
So the Oilers take Game 3, 2-1 on pretty much the most inartistic goal
you'll ever see. Nonetheless, Edmonton has a pulse and we have a series.
Markkanen got the first star last night, which I didn't care for. It
seemed like a lot of pucks hit him as opposed to Markkanen *making* the
Meanwhile, Carolina just didn't have it. They didn't play particularly
well, nor did most bounces go their way.
That's all that the Oilers need out of Markkanen if they can keep doing the job that they did in Game 3. Incidentally, the three star selections were done by Hockey Night In Canada, according to NHL.com. It looks to me like someone there wanted to give the crowd a chance to salute Jussi for his efforts - the most positive moment enjoyed in Rexall by an Oiler goalie this season (Non-Roloson division). Hopefully this builds something of a reservoir of confidence on which he can draw in the case of a bad goal or two.
Edmonton really played a great Game 3, something that I don't think came across particularly well. Carolina had only eight shots within 35 feet of the net. The Oilers had 17. It was a really workmanlike effort and something that the Oilers will need again. Considering the list of Oilers who didn't have great games - Pronger wasn't at his best, Smith made another ill advised rush, Hemsky is still befuddled by the Canes PK (or the lingering effects of post-concussion syndrome) and Jarret Stoll has apparently been lost to the charms of Ms. Rachel Hunter - there's still a lot of room for the Oilers to play even better hockey in Game 4.
The big story, from an Edmonton perspective, should be the trouble that the power play has had so far. For all the hype that the matchup between the Carolina power play and Edmonton's penalty killers was getting before the series, the job that Carolina's penalty killers have done should be the story. I thought that I was starting to see cracks in the veneer in Game 4 though; the Oilers were able to generate some shots that missed the net after being absolutely shut down in Games 1 and 2. If these shots start hitting the net, they'll turn into goals.
June 8th: After Game 2
Well, what can you say about Game 2? Pretty much everything went right for the Hurricanes - including in goal, where Cam Ward played well but also caught some breaks and continued to get away with giving up a lot of rebounds.
As for the Oilers, it was the sum of all fears. Markkanen, who needed a strong game to restore his confidence, allowed five goals, and the team looked (understandably) frustrated in unravelling in the third.
David and Pat, you thoughts?
Tyler - a more specific question: MacTavish said before naming his starting goalie for Game 2 that whomever he chose wouldn't be subject to a quick hook and would get a chance to play himself into a comfort zone. It didn't sound like a bad idea because Markkanen and Conklin had pretty similar seasons (both had an .880 save % and neither could seize the No. 1 job) so why not try to prop one guy up with some playing time?
But that was before last night's shellacking. Do you think MacT will stick with his plan? More to the point, *should* he?
Carolina played a great game on Wednesday night, dominating play for the vast majority of the game. Edmonton was good for about 40 minutes, but all of their quality chances were once again held at bay. Most of the credit for that actually goes to Carolina's defence - Glen Wesley, Bret Hedican and Aaron Ward each blocked four shots. As a team, the Hurricanes blocked 24 shots.
Of course, Cam Ward played an outstanding game, stopping all 25 shots that came his way. There is no way to take credit away from him, but at the same time, I think the D deserves a little love. In addition, Carolina's forwards (specifically Brind'Amour, Staal, and Andrew Ladd) were all over the place, pitching in defensively.
Jussi Markkanen played a decent game, and can't be held to blame for all of those goals. He should be, and Oilers fans should be, furious with the rest of the team. The defencemen over-commited, giving Carolina odd-man rushes. The Oilers took a lot of penalties, most of them bad ones. They can't afford to give Carolina lots of power plays. No team can afford to give another lots of PP chances, but Carolina's PP unit is completely en fuego
It was really unfortunate to see things get chippy at the end. While the enthusiasm may give the Oil a spark, going to the box does your team no good. The board by "GG Laraque" was completely filthy. He had just moments earlier taken a hard run at Nic Wallin, leading with the knee. Then the boarding of Andrew Ladd when the game was out of reach. He was clearly trying to do something other than give his team a spark.
I don't think anyone can argue that these penalties were bad calls. They were examples of a complete lack of discipline. In the case of Laraque, I would question his respect for the game. Not just in Game 2 of the final - I mean his respect for the game of hockey. Laraque has been a common goon in every series this playoff season. His team has survived despite his theatrics thus far, but I think MacT may want to reconsider giving him ice time. Four major penalties on him this playoff season, including two in the fight-filled Game 2 with the Ducks, the boarding of Jonathan Cheechoo in Game 3 of the Sharks series, and now this.
Including what happend in Game 2, he has taken two game misconducts. I have to wonder what is the point. His purpose on the team seems to be injuring the opposing team's players, even if it means taking a major penalty and/or an ejection. This is not a good strategy against a team that will bury its power-play opportunities.
After all that is said, although I'm very confident in my boys, I think Edmonton will dig deep and win one up there. They will need to win Game 3 to have any hope, though.
I'm actually scared of what might happen if Carolina wins Game 3. Given what we witnessed in the third period last night, it looks like there could be some really ugly stuff if Edmonton's back is too far against the wall. I hope I'm wrong about that. I hope I'm reading too much into three or four foolish mistakes last night and one player's track record.
My first thought was, why Markkanen? I mean, you've got Conklin on the bench all throughout the playoffs as your No. 2 guy, then you start the
guy who's been watching from the booth? I don't get it. All it did was destroy any confidence Conklin had left from the bad giveaway in Game 1.
The Hurricanes looked great in every way possible last night - no complaints! I don't think they will sweep, but this series should be over in five.
I think MacTavish did the right thing in saying that whomever he started was going to be his guy for the rest of the playoffs and I think that he made the right choice in choosing Jussi. Last night's game was really a funny one - I thought that Jussi looked pretty sketchy in the first two periods and better in the third, which is when the wheels really seemed to come off for the Oilers.
There were a ton of other problems though - I haven't seen the defencemen pinch that much all year; guys like Jason Smith and Matt Greene do not belong at the edge of the opposition's crease but we saw them there time and time again last night.
I think that he pretty much has to leave Jussi in net and I think that he will. The thing is, neither of the two remaining goalies has seen much ice time in the past three months and last night was as much about getting one of them a game as anything else. Jussi looked better in the third, I thought - there were several occasions in the first two periods where he got away with overplaying the shot and didn't get burned on it. The third period basically turned into an episode of the Gong Show but Jussi looked better to me.
The question will be whether or not the rest of the team can pick up their game for the return to Rexall. I'd like to think that it's not going to end without at least one happy moment at home for the Oilers, so I'll predict that Jussi leads them to a win.
June 6th: After Game 1
Wow. What a game. Where to start?
David, you must be ecstatic right now. Not only did the 'Canes rally from a 3-0 deficit, but now they'll be facing the immortal Ty Conklin (or Jussi Markkanen) for the rest of the series. Feeling more confident?
Tyler, my condolences. The Oilers looked to be cruising to a 1-0 series lead. Instead they're down 1-0 and their star goalie is out. Goaltending looked to be one area where Edmonton had a significant advantage - now the Oil will probably have to go with Conklin and his .880 regular-season save percentage. What's your take on Conklin? Can the Oilers win this series with him in net?
Well, so much for my carefully reasoned and inflammatory analysis of why the Oilers ought to be favoured in this series. I don't think it's quite as bad as it's being made out to be, though.
Before the Oilers got Roloson, they were a team that was a hair above .500. Carolina, for all the reasons I presented in my series rundown, wasn't really that much better: their goal differential of +28 is worth about three wins more than the Oilers’ +7. There are other factors at play though, as Carolina had a soft schedule and Edmonton didn't. The balance of power between these two teams with Roloson gone tilts in favour of the Hurricanes but not nearly to the degree that the media are going to be saying.
The hard part about figuring out what's going to happen here is that there isn't a precedent for this that I can think of - a team losing it's goalie so late in the playoffs with such poor replacements. It's an incredibly lousy break for the Oilers. This isn't Ottawa, where the GM rolled the dice on a goalie who's notorious for his questionable health. This sort of thing just doesn't happen this late in the season. I still can't believe that it did happen - I half expect to see Roloson out there to start Game 2.
Edmonton can still win this series, I suppose, for a couple of reasons. The first is Cam Ward. For all the talk that he was the star of Game 1, he put up an .895 save percentage. If he puts that up for the rest of the series, I'd be quite confident that the Oilers could win. He made a number of great saves but there were a lot of rebounds there as well.
I pointed it out on my site the other day, but Ward put up numbers in the regular season that were very comparable to the numbers put up by Conklin and Markkanen - his save percentage of .882 would have put him squarely in their class, although it's probably easier to post a good save percentage behind the Oilers than behind the Hurricanes. If I was MacTavish, I'd be pointing out the save percentages to Conklin and Markkanen and hammering home the point that in a short series anything can happen. One of them gets a chance to redeem an absolutely nightmare of a season and turn himself into a Proven Playoff Performer.
I don't think that Ward is all that good at this point in his career - Conklin and Jussi don't need to give the Oilers what Roloson gave them, they just need to match the Hurricanes goalies, which is a much lower standard.
The second thing that I see working in the Oilers’ favour is the fact that you don't get this far into the playoffs without overcoming adversity. This isn't unique to the Oilers – I'm sure that virtually every Stanley Cup finalist has to overcome something similar at some point of their season but this won't be the end of Edmonton.
The third thing I see in favour of the Oilers is something that actually aggravates a lot of the Oiler fans I know - the presence of many ex-Oilers on the coaching staff and in the front office. The one area though where their expertise is absolutely unquestionable is in overcoming tough situations-they've experienced pretty much every situation imaginable in the playoffs.
MacTavish was talking about the 1996 Blues, who lost Grant Fuhr and almost managed to win their series against Toronto, after the game last night. I imagine that the latter-day Oilers will be hearing a lot about how the Oilers of yore overcame the loss of Gretzky in 1988 and the loss of Fuhr for most of the 1989-90 season to win the Stanley Cup that year. These guys have seen teams lose major pieces and overcome it before. Hopefully they can convey that to the guys in the dressing room.
They need to make it clear to the dressing room that they've overcome long odds already in the playoffs - Edmonton was in a worse position after Game 1 with Detroit and Game 2 with San Jose than they're in right now.
I've kind of danced around the issue of who I think MacTavish should start. My guess is that it's going to be Conklin. I think that the coaching staff prefers him to Markkanen for some reason. If Conklin loses Game 2, you have to go to Markkanen anyway; if Markkanen loses Game 2, I don't know that I'd want to throw Ty Conklin into the fire in Edmonton where he's not particularly popular. There was a time earlier this year when the coaches were basically publicly begging people to stop booing him.
My own preference is that MacTavish starts Jussi in Game 2 and rides him from here on out. While Markkanen provides what can be characterized as just benignly bad goaltending, Conklin seems to specialize in the soul-destroying blunder at the most inopportune moment possible.
Conklin doesn't seem to be all that confident at the moment either - he did an interview last night where he basically seemed to be hoping that a few pucks hit him at the start of Game 2, giving him confidence. When you make Manny Legace's demeanour at the end of the Edmonton-Detroit series seem like that of Theo Fleury after scoring against the Oilers in Game 6 in 1991, you're at a real personal low point.
I've got no prediction for how the series goes from here. I'm just going to hope and pray that one of Conklin or Markkanen can keep the Hurricanes to three or four goals per game and that the Oilers can score four or five. They're still the worst team that the Oilers have played in the playoffs - unfortunately this is going to be the worst version of the Oilers iced since the trade deadline.
Yeah, I was completely ecstatic after Game 1. Honestly, when Brindy scored the game winner, there was a bit of a "What?...Just?....Happened?" feel. Not that we were complaining about the gift-wrapped goal, but it didn't even seem real.
What very little I know about Ty Conklin is that he had limited experience on the Team USA squad and played in a few games for the Oil. I know absolutely nothing about Jussi Markkanen.
After reading all of the Oilers blogs, it seems like there's an overall feeling of gloom and doom. At least immediately following the news of Roli's injury. I'm inclined to think that Conkkanen will be okay, and that the rest of the team will work a little harder to help out defensively. The Oil already have one of the best defenses around, so I'm actually thinking that they'll be fine, even with Conkkanen in net. It certainly isn't over.
That said, Carolina played a bad game for roughly 40 minutes on Monday, and still managed to mount the amazing comeback. Sure, Edmonton had the clamps down defensively, but Carolina still wasn't looking very good. If the Canes can come back and play better for a larger portion of the game, I'll be less nervous about the whole thing. The key will be to not only play more soundly, but to throw lots of shots to the net. Make the goalie's life miserable.
June 4, 2006: Before Game 1
Hey fellas, I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but the Stanley Cup final is upon us and I want to get your takes.
First, kudos to David for nailing his prediction of the Hurricanes over the Sabres in seven. Though I'm pretty certain the series would have played out differently had the Sabres' defence not been decimated by injuries.
Then again, I'm a Sabres fan, so that could just be my lingering bitterness talking.
Anyway, though it's of no consolation to me, it looks like the Reverse Roundtable Jinx is still going. Both of the Cup finalists are represented on our panel.
With that in mind, Tyler and David - how do you feel about the match-up? What are the areas in which your team has an edge? Where might your team be at a disadvantage? And, if you're feeling courageous, how about a prediction?
Pat, as a non-fan of the finalists you can provide us with some different angles. How do you see the final playing out?
Carolina is an excellent match-up for the Oilers.
I'm sure that this will be thrown back at me by someone if Edmonton
somehow blows this, but Carolina is easily the worst team that the Oilers
have played in the playoffs. I was going through the opponents that
each team has played so far in the playoffs and the Oilers have had
the vastly more difficult path to the finals – statistically, Detroit
is far better than Montreal and San Jose is significantly better than
New Jersey. It's a bit closer between Anaheim and Buffalo but, considering
that Buffalo was playing with approximately two legitimate NHL defencemen
at the end of that series, I'd give the edge to Anaheim as well.
Carolina has yet to play a strong team that wasn't grievously wounded. Edmonton is now healthy and rested. Game 1 might be a bit dicey due to the layoff but after that, I figure that we're going to see the Oilers team that destroyed the Sharks in the final four games of that series. Bad news for Carolina.
I'm not at all concerned about the difference in points between the two teams. Carolina was fortunate to accumulate as many points as they did this year - it was done on the back of 14 points for OT losses and shootout wins as well as a ridiculously good record in one-goal games.
I don't think that they're anywhere near as good as their points total would suggest. They were, at best, a marginally better team than the Oilers prior to Edmonton's acquisition of Dwayne Roloson.
You can add to that the fact that Carolina had a really soft schedule. It's something that I pay close attention to - teams from the Northwest and Northeast had really tough schedules this year while teams in the Southeast and Central divisions had it easy. Carolina's schedule luck continued through the playoffs until Buffalo, which was conveniently destroyed by injury.
In terms of comparing the two teams, Edmonton, with Roloson in net, is better than Carolina at every facet of the game. Seriously.
At even strength this year, Edmonton was -0.27 of a goal different per 60 minutes while Carolina was +0.10/60. Give the Oilers a league average save percentage at even strength though, and they become a team that's +0.17 GD/60 at even strength. Roloson gives them that, at least.
Their power plays appear close if you just look at their success rates, but Carolina was quite prone to giving up shorthanded goals this year. Due in part to this, the Oilers accumulated +6.64 goal differential/60 to Carolina's 5.58 GD/60.
Edmonton's penalty-killing unit, in addition to being about 0.8 GD/60 better than Carolina's, is also one of the best in the league at scoring on the PK. That matches up very well with the PP most prone to allowing shorties.
Finally, there's the goaltending match-up. I know that Cam Ward has had a nice playoffs but he was not a good goalie this year - the Oilers had three goalies who put up similar numbers to him. I don't think that there can be any argument over the fact that Roloson is the better goalie of the two.
I've said it in previous posts, but I'm revelling in the superiority of the Oilers in this one, so I'll make the point again, lest I be accused of ignoring something that I was harping on earlier: in a short series, any team can win.
Edmonton benefitted from this against Detroit. Carolina could beat Edmonton - the gap between the Oilers and Canes is a lot smaller than the gap between Edmonton and Detroit. I'm quite comfortable, though, in stating the following three propositions: a) Carolina is the worst team Edmonton has seen in the playoffs, b) Edmonton is the best team that Carolina has seen in the playoffs and c) Edmonton is better than Carolina.
Whether Edmonton wins or not will come down to the hockey gods, of course. Oiler fans have created a decided edge with those particular deities, though - we've been providing them with burnt offerings following every game, while in Carolina the fans apparently return home without so much of a hint of praise for the hockey gods cleverly disguised as civil unrest. That's going to come home to bite them.
Edmonton wins Cup No. 6. Carolina fans will have to console themselves with the fact that they still have public phone booths.
Once again, I think this should be a great series.
You'll have to excuse me because the Canes didn't play the Oil this regular season and I don't have the Center Ice package. I didn't see them at all in the regular season, and I only got to watch them maybe three times in the post-season. I can't really say anything about them authoritatively.
My impression, though, is that Carolina's forwards will be able to outskate the Oilers. According to the NHL's tale of the tape, the teams match up pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch. However, it seems like Carolina's forwards are more skilled. Their point production is a testament to that. While Edmonton has five forwards with 10 or more post-season points, Carolina has eight.
Edmonton probably gets the upper hand in the defense department. Their guys are better across the board. However, they rely very heavily on Chris Pronger, who averages almost 32 minutes a game, and Jaro Spacek, who averages just under 27. These are monster ice-time stats, and each of them has been putting up quality offensive numbers also.
Carolina has good, but not great, defensemen who are each pulling roughly the same amount of weight. If something (injury, illness, alien abduction, bizarre train accident) should happen to Prongs or Spacek, there could be trouble for the Oilers. There's also the chance that they will cheat a little (and spend time in the box) to keep up with Carolina's speedy, talented skaters. Still, the Oilers have an advantage there.
Carolina has been awesome on the power play, while Edmonton has been outstanding on the penalty kill. The specialty teams battle should be quite interesting.
One small thing that could be worth the price of admission will be the faceoff battles. During the regular season, Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour and Edmonton's Jarret Stoll were among the best in the league at winning faceoffs. That should also be interesting.
All seven games sold out within minutes, including standing room only tickets. Both barns are well known for the enthusiasm displayed by the crowd. Carolina gets the extra home game, which could be a huge factor.
One thing that I think is a complete non-factor is the history enjoyed by Edmonton. Yes, their team has won a bunch of Cups and has been in the league the exact same amount of time as the Whalers/’Canes. However, no current Oilers player has ever won the Cup.
Meanwhile, four current Canes (Recchi, Stillman, Tverdovsky, Aaron Ward) have won the Cup. In fact, only three Oilers players (Mike Peca and Dwayne Roloson with the '99 Sabres and Radek Dvorak with the '96 Florida Panthers) have ever played in the Cup final.
Seven members of this Hurricanes team (Aaron Ward, Bret Hedican, Glen Wesley, Nic Wallin, Rod Brind'Amour, Josef Vasicek, Kevyn Adams) were also on the 2002 team that made the Cup final. Erik Cole was a huge part of that 2002 team, but won't be well enough to return to the ice for this series.
On that note, Carolina does have the "win one for the Gipper" thing going. Of course, Erik Cole isn't going to die anytime soon, but after having a sensational first two-thirds of a season (60 points in 60 games), he can't be out there helping his team win. The fans have rallied around the slogan “Win it for Erik" and I'd like to think that there's some of that going around the room as well.
Well, I thought Anaheim was the team to beat, but
Edmonton was simply on fire. The long layoff could hurt them as far
as momentum, but the four-day layoff for Carolina probably did the same
for the 'Canes.
I've actually paid quite a bit of attention to both teams this season - Edmonton is in the same division as the Avs, and I have a buddy in Carolina who bought season tickets this year and pulled me up on their bandwagon back in December.
The loss of Erik Cole is the only thing hurting Carolina a little. Cam Ward has been fantastic in net (especially for a rookie) and Weight and Recchi are stepping up in the playoffs, which is why they were brought in.
For Edmonton, it's all been about that great trade to bring in Roloson. He has completely turned the team around and they have proved three times already that they can beat any team at any time in the playoffs.
So, if I had to predict, I'd have to give a slight edge to Edmonton, simply because of the goaltender. Ward has been great, but he is a rookie and you never know what you might get on any given night. Carolina certainly has the fire power, but so did Detroit.
My heart is with the 'Canes, but my mind is with the Oil.