Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Oilers are one win away from the Dance

It was an ending that was a little closer than anyone thought, but in the end it’s the score on the scoreboard that separates the winner from the loser. Tuesday night, despite an Anaheim comeback that had even the hardiest Oiler fan gnawing their nails, the Oilers held on for a 5-4 victory and a commanding 3 game to none lead in their best of seven series. The win leaves the Oilers with but one game to win in four to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, Edmontonians are hoping to be celebrating by Thursday night!

The game featured an Oiler team that was battling the flu and fatigue, a fact that wasn’t lost on the Ducks who came out hitting and hitting hard in the first period. There were fights galore in the first five minutes of play before things tended to settle down a bit. Though penalties would rule the night as the hits kept coming all night long. It seemed that the Ducks strategy was to wear down the Oilers, taking advantage of the health crisis in the Oiler dressing room. The Ducks outshot the Oilers and battled hard in the Oiler end of the rink to get shots on Dwayne Roloson. The Oiler goaltender had a pretty good game going until the third period, when the Ducks poured on the comeback and snuck a couple of goals past the Oiler standout. He had previously held them scoreless for over 120 minutes until the floodgates seemed to open in the third. He certainly wasn’t responsible for the sudden flurry of Ducks in his end, it was a tired looking Oiler squad that had to hold on in the third, trying to slow down a suddenly frantic flock of Ducks streaming over the blue line.

The amazing thing about that Anaheim burst was that it came hot on the heels of four consecutive Oiler goals, many would have thought that having so many goals scored so fast would be a deflating experience, but it seemed in some strange way to motivate the Ducks to get their game back in gear.

Mis-plays by their goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and by defenceman Ruslan Salei led to two of the Oiler goals, take those two poor judgment calls and a few near misses going the other way and the Ducks would be looking at tying the series on Thursday not wondering if this is it for them this year.

After the game they were saying all the right things, about how this is a team that can come back from a 3-0 deficit, how they feel they had their game back on track in the third, but one wonders how much of whistling by the graveyard that is as opposed to true belief.

As it is, they have their backs to the wall; they’ve lost 21 straight games in Edmonton since 1999, a record that does not bode well for a game four victory and an extension of the series. The Oilers who seem to find the goals they need to win at just the right time are looking back to the last Oiler squad to claim a Stanley Cup, the 1990 vintage Oilers were of a similar bent as the 2006 version, they work hard, they work as a team and they find the way to win.

One more win and they’ll find their way to the Stanley Cup finals, flu ridden or not, nothing it seems is going to stall the Oiler drive for another championship.

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