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1:55 AM ET, 6/15/06
Carolina fans denied Cup celebration
Posted by Allan Muir
Doesn't matter which horse you've got in this race, you have to feel sorry for the Hurricanes fans on hand for Game 5.
With Edmonton defender Steve Staios whistled off for tripping early in overtime -- further proof, if it was needed, of the NHL's commitment to calling the game correctly -- the RBC Center started rumbling, like a rocket ready for liftoff. Although the faithful couldn't see it, they surely sensed that the final coat of polish was being applied to the old silver mug somewhere in the bowels of the arena. With five skaters on the ice to Edmonton's four, it would soon be theirs.
As the puck dropped, some Caniacs held hands. Others peered through clasped fingers, almost unable to watch the drama unfolding in front of them. But all felt their hearts pounding, their nerves jangling electric, anticipating the impending arrival of the most perfect moment in sports: an overtime Stanley Cup clincher on home ice.
And why not? The Hurricanes had been ruthlessly efficient with the extra man during regulation, scoring three times on six chances. And in a series that had been defined, as much as anything, by the success of Carolina's power play against the Clousseau-esque bumbling of Edmonton, it seemed preordained that this game would be decided with an Oiler in the box.
It was. And surely, nothing could have been as deflating to that crowd as seeing Fernando Pisani's shorthanded laser find its mark over Cam Ward's left shoulder … except perhaps seeing the Cup placed lovingly back in its padded crate, its new claimant to be decided on another night, perhaps in another town.
Still, they were witness to a magnificent game, weren't they? Game 5 offered three lead changes, several well-rung posts, and as much grit and intensity as we've seen in these playoffs.
And if you're gonna lose, a true fan might say, at least they lost on a good goal rather than some fluky bounce. Pisani's breakaway, created off a soft breakout pass by Cory Stillman, was about as good as it gets, another in a remarkable string of goals authored by this unlikely hero.
Now, there are questions as the series heads back to Edmonton for Game 6. Certainly the health of Doug Weight and Aaron Ward, two key performers who missed significant stretches of action due to injuries suffered during the game, will be an issue. Both might play Saturday, but will their effectiveness be compromised?
Cam Ward, though not to blame on any of the four goals, no longer offers a clear advantage in the nets for the 'Canes. After getting blistered for five goals in Game 2, Jussi Markkanen has given his team a chance to win in three straight contests. Is he capable of rattling off at least one more such effort to get his team to Game 7?
And despite finally netting one on the power play Wednesday night, can Edmonton really hope to complete the comeback when they're being this badly outclassed on special teams?
Even with that last thought in mind, a loss like this means there won't be many happy Hurricanes fans this morning. Perhaps they can console themselves with one simple thought: Imagine how much sweeter that OT Cup clincher would be if it came in Game 7.
This was supposed to be Eric Staal's celebration. One win shy from clinching the Stanley Cup, the Carolina Hurricanes had hoped to end the series at the RBC Center. Instead of spraying champagne on his teammates, Staal stood in the locker room with his arms crossed and a glum expression as he talked about how the night "sucked."
It certainly didn't start that way. The 21-year-old center got off to a promising start when he scored Carolina's first goal early in the first period. Punching his fists into the plexiglass and hugging his teammates, Staal looked poised to win his first Stanley Cup. After taking some heat for being noticeably absent in the first three games of the series against Edmonton, Staal made a big splash in the first 60 minutes of Game 5 by scoring twice and assisting on all three of the Carolina Hurricanes' goals. Then overtime came.
Three and a half minutes into sudden death, Staal missed a pass from Cory Stillman and turned over the winning goal to the NHL's leading playoff scorer Fernando Pisani (tied with Rod Brind'Amour at 12 goals). Though Stillman admitted he made a "soft pass," Staal took the blame for allowing Pisani to score the first-ever overtime, shorthanded goal in Cup history. "I didn't really see him coming till the last second," said Staal. "It's my fault as well. I have got to make a better play than they did."
Despite scoring two goals in a playoff game for the first time, the 4-3 loss will give Staal plenty of time to think about all the things that went wrong on that long flight back to Edmonton for Game 6. This was only the second time the Hurricanes have allowed a shorthanded goal in the playoffs. After converting three goals on seven power-play opportunities, Carolina seemed to get a lucky break when Oilers' defenseman Steve Staios got thrown into the penalty box for tripping.
Instead, Pisani's breakaway gave the Oilers its third shorthanded goal for the postseason. "It hurts. We're in overtime. We have a chance to end this thing and we didn't," said Hurricanes center Kevyn Adams. "But we're up 3-2. We got to pull together in this locker room. ... We're going to have to go in there and play the game of our lives. Bottom line."
The remnants of tropical storm Alberto ravaged Raleigh on Wednesday, flooding low lying areas, blocking routes to the rink, creating havoc in the Triangle and getting the starved-for-attention region some national recognition on the Weather Channel if not on NBC. If the morning deluge were any heavier Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes could have arrived for the morning skate by pontoon.
But just when things seemed bleakest -- and being one game away from elimination in the Stanley Cup final is as bleak as it gets -- the Edmonton Oilers espied a silver lining, deciding to change the name of Tropical Storm Alberto to Hurricane Alberta.
"So," said Oilers defenseman Chris Pronger said, who played 33:46 and was a plus-three, "it was nice to see that we were getting as little bit of love from the weather."
At 11:07 p.m. the storm was downgraded to a depression for almost 19,000 disappointed celebrants at a hockey rink in North Carolina.
So you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows after this particular natural disaster in Carolina. For the Hurricanes, blowing Game 5 at home, 4-3, in overtime, necessitates another five-hour plane ride, another game, or two, against an Oilers team that keeps finding ways to stay afloat.
This was the unlikeliest way to end it, however. There never had been a shorthanded overtime winner in the history of the Stanley Cup final, maybe because there never had been a penalty called in overtime before. (Just kidding. Sort of.) But was it any wonder that it would take fewer than four minutes of the first overtime game in the "new NHL" for a shorty. The winner was scored by Fernando Pisani, Edmonton's favorite son even before he lasered a shot over the glove of Carolina goalie Cam Ward at 3:31 of overtime, bailing out defenseman Steve Staios -- he had taken a tripping penalty -- and the entire city, province and perhaps country. There might not be anything like a free lunch in the Stanley Cup final, but Pisani will never have to buy dinner in Edmonton's Little Italy for the rest of his life. He can dine out on the play, a sleight-of-hand perpetrated on the estimable duo of Eric Staal and Cory Stillman, a pair of forwards who have been the Hurricanes' most dangerous offensive players.
(Like many teams, the Hurricanes use a forward on the point of the power play. The only defenseman Carolina had on the ice was Frantisek Kaberle, and he was nowhere in sight.)
The problem is Staal and Cory Stillman were playing pitty-pat with the puck: Staal to Stillman and up to Staal near the blueline, passes so languid that they had a "use by" date. Pisani, who had tipped home a Pronger point shot 16 seconds into the match to announce that the Oilers really meant business, swooped in on Staal, who uses one of the longest sticks in the NHL, and managed to deflect the puck. It wound up in Pisani's pants -- a foreign object, for sure -- and he shook it free, skating in with enough time to peek at Ward, who was cheating a tad to his blocker side. Then, whoosh.
"He made no mistake tonight, just ripped it through the back of the net," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said of Pisani's goal. "He's played incredibly well through these playoffs. [Pisani is tied with the Hurricanes' Rod Brind'Amour for the playoff lead with 12 goals.] That's really what's been absent through the first four games of the series, that timely scoring. He's at a level now where you expect it from Fernando, but prior to the last round or two, (we'd been getting scoring from) unexpected sources, and (recently) we haven't been finding those unexpected sources offensively. And when your power play isn't that proficient" -- the Oilers snapped a 1-for-25 streak when Ales Hemsky cashed in the Oilers' first man-advantage of the game -- "it's a tough combination to overcome. And tonight we got a power play goal, we got some goals from varied sources, and that's the reason we won the hockey game."