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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.
3:26 PM ET, 6/10/06

Time for Oilers' stars to step up

Posted by Allan Muir
A team travels a long, difficult road to get the Finals, but once they arrive, there's no real trick to winning the Stanley Cup. It all comes down to everyone doing his part.

The Hurricanes are up 2-0 entering tonight's pivotal Game 3 because all hands are contributing. The work they've put in, especially on special teams, has been textbook, forcing the Oilers to react to the 'Canes rather than play their own game.

And in the course of playing a more complete team game, Carolina's big players are coming up big.

Rod Brind'Amour has been like a highlight reel version of himself, scoring crucial goals and winning so many faceoffs that they've practically become a gimme. The defense may look like a Toyota, but it performs like a Lexus. Cam Ward's been doing his best Grant Fuhr impression. Ray Whitney and Mark Recchi and Cory Stillman all are playing like they've been here before, and they know what it takes.

Conversely, the Oilers are down because, outside of all-world defender Chris Pronger, they've gotten little of substance from their best players.

It's not for lack of effort. You can make important contributions all over the ice, but they still pick a winner based on who scores the most goals. And right now, Edmonton has far too many players who aren't finishing -- or worse, aren't getting into a position to get shots past the block-happy Hurricanes defenders.

The most worrisome aspect for Edmonton coach Craig McTavish is that the top-six power outage hasn't been limited to this series. The trend was established in the Western Conference Finals against Anaheim.

First line center Shawn Horcoff has just three assists in his last seven games. He's pointless in this series and is a staggering minus-five.

Ryan Smyth's been as abrasive in the trenches as Ann Coulter, but he has just one goal in his last eight games, and is a minus-three against the 'Canes. Ales Hemsky, Edmonton's most talented offensive weapon, has matched Smyth's string of futility with two markers in nine games. While he did notch a big goal in Game 1, he was conspicuous by his absence in Game 2.

The other key members of Edmonton forward corps -- Jarrett Stoll, Radek Dvorak and Sergei Samsonov -- have chipped in with a measly five assists over the past six games --and four of those were authored by Samsonov.

Through the Anaheim series, their failings were glossed over by the superlative efforts of Pronger and the support staff. Fernando Pisani carried the mail through three rounds, but a team that relies on a third liner to light the lamp in the Finals is not a team capable of competing.

Say what you want about the importance of Jussi Markkanen and the need for him to steal one tonight. He can stop 58 of 60, but it won't matter without offensive support. If the Oilers want to prove they belong in these Finals with the Hurricanes, it's time for the big boys up front to deliver.

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