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Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
12:14 AM ET, 6/18/06

Cole's return doesn't provide boost

Posted by Michael Farber
If you are going to throw out the hockey equivalent of Willis Reed onto the ice in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, your team better not play like Lou Reed.

Erik Cole was the mystery guest, returning from a cloak-and-dagger trip to Denver on the off day for a CT scan on his broken neck that he sustained in early March and being inserted into the lineup in place of the injured Doug Weight, a surprise move that should have boosted the Carolina Hurricanes, inspired them to their best performance of the playoffs and enabled them to skate away with the Cup in Edmonton.

Instead they curiously were as flat as a tortilla, flat as the Earth pre-Galileo, flat as Saskatchewan. For all the good Cole did on the scoreboard -- and for a winger who hadn't played in 14 weeks, as Carolina coach Peter Laviolette noted after the game, he was one of the Hurricanes' better players -- he might as well have been Nat King Cole. Carolina got an impressive 18:31 from Cole -- even-strength, a ton of power-play time and even a dollop of penalty killing -- but a coaching move by Laviolette and a stubborn desire to play by Cole -- two things that could have smacked of genius -- suddenly, in light of the tepid performance by the Hurricanes, seemed more sour than smart.

The Hurricanes held a team meeting after the 4-0 rout. According to veteran defenseman Glen Wesley, who otherwise adopted a what-is-said-in-the-room stays-in-the-room Las Vegas approach, mentioned the word "embarrassed" had come up.

Not humiliated?

The Oilers outshot Carolina, 10-3, in the first period and had a 21-3 lead in shots with fewer than six minutes remaining in the second. But it wasn't merely the laughable disparity in shots. The game swung on the Oilers willingness to scrap for every loose puck, to win every foot race, to play a game with their legs and heart as well as their heads. If you need any further proof of the collective brain cramp suffered by the Hurricanes, they took a pair of too-many-men penalties among the nine power-play opportunities they afforded the Oilers. Earlier in the series, it might not have mattered. But Edmonton has started moving the puck quickly, scoring three power play goals and finally managing to get two-on-ones down low, looking dangerous with the man-advantage even when they didn't score.

Carolina center Kevyn Adams said he didn't think his team was uninspired, just off on a night when it squandered its remaining margin of error in the best-of-seven.

Certainly Cole's shocking appearance didn't rattle the Oilers, who bumped him around -- Ethan Moreau got a particularly solid check on him on the second shift of the game, a bit of headhunting, according to Cole -- and abused him about as much as anyone else in a white sweater. When they saw Cole take the warmup, the Oilers figured something was up. When Cole's name appeared on the greaseboard prior to the game in the Carolina lineup -- he played the right side with Eric Staal and Cory Stillman -- Edmonton defenseman Steve Staios said, "It was business as usual. We were just worried about our own game."

"We didn't even mention it," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "He looked to me like he was a threat out there. He wasn't tentative by any stretch of the imagination. He got some hits out there."

Cole, who said he didn't feel particularly strong in the third period, at least had one game to shake off the rust. Now he gets to rest, or at least as much rest as a five-hour plane ride across two time zones affords, before trying to win a trophy he said he has been dreaming of his entire life.

He wanted to return to the Cup chase, forcing the issue, badgering the coaches when Weight went down. He didn't owe the Hurricanes that.

But now the Hurricanes owe him at least the same honest effort that he gave to the team.


Posted: 12:51 AM   by Anonymous
I'm glad Edmonton won tonight. But, I give Cole all the credit in the world for getting out there and playing. That takes a lot of heart and guts. I can't help but wonder if it was risky, though. I mean, he's fine, but what if something happened to him?
Posted: 2:42 AM   by Anonymous
Now we've got what we wanted...Game Seven!
Congratulations to the Carolina team and the fans for a very successful season... you're a small-market team, like us, and you've set yourself up for success: great wins, great revenues for next year!
Here's to a glorious final game, where it's all left on the ice, and everyone can see the world's best hockey!
Posted: 9:14 AM   by Anonymous
I may learn to respect you as a NHL fan, but I need more time. (Most American writers don't understand.) I'm from Saskatchewan, which you mentioned in your last blog. Basically, as an ex resitedent I find it rather infuriating for sports writers to mention a place they have never visited.

As far as the finals go, I witnessed the Oil win five cups in my youth, but if we can pull it out in game seven it is so much better because I'm older and can appreciate this run.

ps. If you print any of my rant, i'm from Saskatoon.
Posted: 1:58 PM   by Anonymous
Well that was a terrible beat-down for Carolina. Probably the only positive for the Canes was Cole's strong play, otherwise it was grim news all around. Only 16 shots and not many of them were particularily dangerous, the defence looked shaky and surrendered numerous odd-man rushes, and Ward has now given up 8 goals in his last two games after surrendering only 3 in his previous three. Perhaps most worrisome of all is that Carolina just looks out of gas and out of ideas. Anything can happen in a game 7, but Edmonton has all the momentum and despite what Carolina may say their squandered opportunities in the last two games must be weighing heavily on their minds.
Posted: 4:02 PM   by AngryCane
The Canes management must be nervous. They jacked up ticket pricesal for the playoffs. Upper level tickets are now almost 10X the price of regular seasona tickets. After spending lots of $$$ to see the games, I am beyond myself that this 'Canes team has quit.

The Oilers do not have more talent than Carolina. They do, however, have much more heart.
Posted: 9:31 PM   by Anonymous
Eric Cole was incredibly stupid to play in this game. He obviously cares about his team and deserves credit for that, but he hurt his team and risked further injury, maybe even death, more than he should have. I don't care what kind of aerobic conditioning he's been doing he obviously wasn't up to "game speed" and it cost Carolina dearly. I was nervous watching the guy every time he got hit wondering if we were going to witness him fall limp to the ice by coming back before he should have. In hindsight, it was an utter failure to provide "spark" to the hurricanes.
Posted: 1:20 PM   by Anonymous
I'm glad the poster above me considers himself an expert on neck injuries! We wouldn't want to trust that to a group of wonderful doctors in Denver. Do you honestly think that a medical team halfway across the country clears a person to play a hockey game if he shouldn't? Your comment is beyond ignorant. Hockey itself can be dangerous. Not only did he look strong out there for having missed 45 games (did you really think he'd come back and seem as though he hadn't missed a step???) Also, I find it disturbing that you consider his effort an "utter failure". I'd blame the entire team for that. One man skating on the ice doesn't cause a team to win through sheer excitement, get with it.
Everything else aside, tonight is a game 7 for all the marbles in the Stanley Cup Finals and as a hockey fan above all else, all I can say is....HELL YEAH!

There is nothing better in sports period.
AngryCane said...
"The Oilers do not have more talent than Carolina. They do, however, have much more heart."

Do I smell a excuse already being cooked up even before thd rop of the puck?
Posted: 2:24 PM   by Anonymous
Who cares what the doctors said, if this was still the regular season do you think he would have come back to the lineup so soon? And I don't think he looked strong out there at all, not that any of the Hurricanes did. And no, I don't think he would have come back and looked like he hasn't missed a step, which is why I said it was stupid for him to come back now thus hurting his team- GET IT?? And I do consider his RETURN (not EFFORT) an utter failure because it was intended to spark the ENTIRE TEAM, but clearly didn't- GET IT?? You get with it. Man I hope the Oilers pound the Canes tonight.
Posted: 2:29 PM   by Anonymous
We'll see how it goes. I personally think if the Canes hit half as much as the Oilers did in game 6, they have a chance. I'd like to see Cole score the game winner...
Posted: 3:47 PM   by Anonymous
Canes fans do a pretty bad job of defending their team now that they are losing. they are already making excuses.
Posted: 10:47 AM   by Anonymous
Let's not stereotype Canes' fans because of a couple of posts. As for the exchange between the two anonymous posters. Cole coming back, if he's healthy (and he clearly was or he wouldn't have been allowed to play), makes sense. He's a great player and leaving out a great player because of a ghost of an injury is pointless. Cole's presence in games 6 and 7 vindicate the decision to play him, in my opinion.

On a happier note, that was a fantastic series. Congrats to Edmonton for taking it to the wire and getting to game 7. No excuses for my Canes' though... they stayed true to their motto.
A triumph for the NHL??? Who won again? The NHL is a joke. I'll be honest, I think it was more exciting hearing about the labor dispute. The NHL Playoffs are longer than the NBA Playoffs, just thinking about watching Hockey makes me want to leap off a tall building. Most of the year they were barely even on cable.

Well... at least you guys can look forward to Hockey training camp in about 3 weeks now. How long is the season? I mean seriously...
Posted: 8:55 PM   by Anonymous
Haha SI. You screwed up yet another preseason prediction process again as far as the NHL is concerned. SI predicted the Canes to finsh lower than 25 (27 i think). Now they are the Stanley Cup champions. I bet you feel stupid. By the way, I am so sorry that a traditional hockey town did not win...... not. Go Canes.
I love REDNECK HOCKEY! Now we begin the repeat.
Posted: 10:47 PM   by Mike
Sorry, streetfighterturbo, that you couldn't find anything compelling about the playoffs this year. Yes, the season lasts a long time, as does every professional sport anymore (what, you think baseball was invented to be played in November with the threat of snow in the forecast?), but so what? The Finals had skating, hitting, scoring, big saves, atmosphere, grit, heart -- everything that makes hockey worth watching.

Please, if you can't stand watching hockey, go watch something more to your liking (like maybe Xtreme Armpit Scratching) and leave the rest of us alone to enjoy the sport in peace.