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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.
12:44 AM ET, 6/07/06

Gotta see it to believe it

Posted by Tom Layberger
A couple of very casual hockey fans I know, the type that were not bothered in the least by last season’s lockout and whose tuning in goes from infrequent in the regular season to periodic in the playoffs, commented generally on how exciting the playoff games they watched have been and, specifically, how much they enjoyed Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. Suddenly, they said, they can’t wait until Wednesday’s Game 2.

Of course, no small byproduct of the lockout was the type of play they witnessed Monday night. But the bottom line is that their reaction can only be music to the ears of the suits on Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan.

Game 1 featured some things that we generally have not seen in a decade or so of Stanley Cup rounds, not the least of which was a three-goal lead more than halfway through the game that went by the boards. There were a few other things that took place that can only help the overall product and keep the casuals tuned in along with the diehards:

• A third-period comeback in which the winning team scored four goals. In only nine of the previous 38 Stanley Cup finals contests had a team scored as many as four goals in a game, forget a period.

• The teams combining for nine goals. Only once in the last 31 games had the lamp been lit as many times.

• The novelty of a goaltender allowing four goals and posting the win. Cam Ward was eight years of age the last time it happened in 1992 when Tom Barrasso and the Penguins nipped the Blackhawks 6-5 in the Cup-clinching Game 4.

• A successful penalty shot. It was something that had never happened before in the finals and it came from a player (Chris Pronger) that never attempted one in his career.

It all made for a great game loaded with storylines. Unfortunately, one of them was the injury suffered by Dwayne Roloson, who was knocked out before he could complete his first game in a Cup round. But like the Hurricanes, the Oilers are a resilient team that will continue to dip deep.

Sure, larger markets and a larger television audience would be desirable. But the league has to take what it can get and, to date, it cannot ask for much better this spring as far as the caliber of play.

The much broader and dependable lens of NBC (OLN going off the air in the entire Philly region for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final was unpardonable) picks up the series starting with Game 3 for what could be some serious primetime viewing. And maybe the peacock can pick up a few more casual fans along the way.
10:25 PM ET, 6/06/06

Oilers work on backup plan

Posted by Yi-Wyn Yen
Late during an afternoon skate at the RBC Center, the Edmonton Oilers gathered around backup goalie Ty Conklin to practice a passing drill. As Conklin prepared and stretched in front of the crease, one skater flung a puck into the webbing and yelled, "Wide-open net!"

The joke certainly wasn’t lost on the Oilers’ backup goalie, who gave up the winning goal to Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour by abandoning his post in Game 1 on the Stanley Cup finals. But Conklin is determined to not become another casualty this week. Once put on waivers since joining Edmonton as a free agent in 2002, Conklin is intent on turning his lackluster performance around, even if it means doing it on the biggest stage. "You work all your life to get in this position. While circumstances aren’t exactly what you wanted, this is an opportunity."

Another backup eager for redemption is Jussi Markkanen, a fifth-round draft pick in 2001, who was traded to the New York Rangers two years later before returning to the Oilers in March 2004. Said Markkanen, "The main thing is that we’re here. There’s no time to look in the past."

The uninspiring work of the Conklin-Markkanen-Mike Morrison trifecta during the regular season forced the Oilers to bring Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton. Roloson was a star performer until he sprained his medial collateral ligament in Game 1 of the finals against the Hurricanes when he got tangled in a collision with Oilers defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and Hurricanes winger Andrew Ladd. After playing the first 1,159 minutes of the playoffs, Roloson (2.33 GAA, .927 save percentage) will not return to the series. He had an MRI taken at Duke University, where he said doctors told him that he would "heal quickly." Asked if his team, stuck with two backup goalies who struggled through the regular season, was finished, Roloson said, "That’s the falsest statement that you can probably make."

For the majority of his nine years in the NHL, no one had given Roloson much thought, either. Considered a second-rate goaltender, Roloson had been released by Calgary, let go by Buffalo, dismissed by Columbus after a day and signed by St. Louis for the Blues' No. 3 spot. When he settled in Minnesota in 2001, he split his work time with Manny Fernandez and posted a career-low 1.88 GAA in the 2003-04 season. After winning just six games in 24 starts for the Wild in 2005-06, the Oilers traded away a first-round draft pick to make Roloson their No. 1 goaltender.

The team had confidence in the 36-year-old netminder and gave him the opportunity to flourish, which is exactly what Roloson did. Now it’s Conklin’s and Markkanen’s turn to redeem themselves. Coach Craig MacTavish won’t say whom he’ll start in the net for Game 2 until it happens, but Markkanen, for one, is eager to capitalize on the opportunity. Following the 5-4 loss, Markkanen approached Conklin and said, "It’s pretty interesting we’re going to have a chance to finish what we started in September."

The rusty Finnish goaltender hasn’t played since March 1 when he gave up three goals against St. Louis and was relieved from the game after two periods. He played most of his minutes in the first half of the 2005-06 season, in which a 3.13 GAA ranked him in the bottom third of the league. "I haven’t played for a long time," he said. "But I try to look at this as the same way when I was here before [in 2001-02 and 2002-03] and Tommy Salo was the No. 1 guy. I ended up finding my game after a few weeks, so I try to do the same."

Coming in with such little expectations may actually work in the two backup goalies’ favor. "There’s a lot less pressure on them now. They really have nothing to lose," said center Shawn Horcoff. "They’re both looking at it as an opportunity to finish the season on a positive note. They’re going to relish the opportunity."
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