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.
2:15 PM ET, 6/19/06
Posted by Michael Farber
The Oilers rally has been extraordinary, especially sinc it has been accomplished with Jussi Markkanen in goal. After acquiring Dwayne Roloson at the trading deadline, the Oilers rode their No. 1 until they slithered into the playoffs. Markkanen and Ty Conklin, who each had .880 save percentages during the regular season, were shunted aside, alternating as backups.
If Conklin had not been the Game 1 reserve the night that Roloson was injured - and not made the egregious puckhandling gaffe in the final minute that cost Edmonton a win - he might have gone from backup to backbone, like Markkanen. When asked three days ago, coach Craig MacTavish thought about it and finally said no, based on his superior work in practice, Markkanen probably would have been Plan B in any case. But that was far easier to say after watching the Finn ease himself into the series.
Markkanen still handles the puck as if it were loaded, but his puck-stopping after the Game 2 debacle has been first-rate. His shutout in Game 6 was his first since 2003, a feat that came so easily it seemed lost in the Oilers' crushing win. He
could become the first injury replacement to win the Cup since the Oilers' Andy Moog in 1984 unless the Hurricanes find another way into Game 7. The obvious solution would be a glut of power play goals, which carried them through Game 5.
Obviously, the Oilers need to stay out of the penalty box, a matter of ratcheting up their smarts and discipline, but this is an element of the game that also confronts Carolina now. It hardy seemed to matter, given the rank incompetence of Edmonton's power play - at one point, a pathetic one-for-25 - but the Oilers have found the ability to get two-on-ones down low with the man-advantage. They scored three power play goals in nine chances in Game 6.
Even when they weren't scoring, the Oilers were throwing the puck around like they were the Harlem Globetrotters and the Carolina penalty-killers were the Washington Generals. It was amazing that point-man Chris Pronger didn't douse Hurricanes checker Kevyn Adams with a bucket of confetti.
When the Oilers landed Roloson for a first-round choice and conditional third rounder in March, MacTavish talked about the need for "one more save." If Markkanen can deliver it, one of the most improbable comebacks in the Stanley Cup final will be complete.
If the Carolina Hurricanes are going to win the Stanley Cup tonight, they better play this one like it's a Game 7.
The margin for error dissipated when their nerves seemed to fail them at home in Game 5 and their nerve totally deserted them under a physical onslaught in Game 6 when they were run out of Edmonton's rink like some garage-league outfit. While the Hurricanes have home-ice advantage and fans louder than Don Cherry's sports jackets -"Given a choice between momentum and home ice, I'll take the ice," Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore said Sunday - they also have the weight of knowing that they have wilted under pressure.
If coach Peter Laviolette can't help the Hurricanes gather themselves in Raleigh, then redneck hockey is going to have a matching red face on Tuesday morning.
The burden also falls on Rod Brind'Amour, the Carolina captain who did not make it to a media session late Sunday afternoon because he wanted to be with his children on Father's Day. This might qualify him as a finalist for the NHL's Father of the Year, but certainly not the NHL's captain of the year. This is the one sport in which the captaincy means something more than calling heads or tails. In the NHL, the captain speaks for the team. He is its voice if not always its face. With Carolina suddenly on the brink, it was entirely appropriate for Brind'Amour to have devoted 20 minutes of his day to lay out the situation, especially after his indifferent play late in the series.
What Brind'Amour would have said - changes in attitudes, changes in platitudes - would have been less significant than the fact that his mouth actually moved. This is the kind of thing that, if the Oilers win tonight, goes down on what your high school teacher called a permanent record. (Indeed, Eric Lindros has not been exonerated since ducking out of a back door of the visitor's dressing room in Detroit before Game 4 of the 1997 final after Philadelphia coach Terry Murray described his team as being in a "choking situation." Left to respond in the absence of the captain, defenseman Eric Desjardins uttered one of the most famous lines in recent Stanley Cup history: "Aiy, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi.")
Brind'Amour was a lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy midway through the series, but he won't win it if the Oilers take Game 7. Indeed, if Brind'Amour does not regain his faceoff touch or pot a goal or at least set one up, there is an outside chance that Oilers defenseman Chris Pronger will be voted the playoff MVP even with a Hurricanes win.