Monday, June 19, 2006

They’re feeling finer in Caroliner, But shouldn’t be down in Oiler town!

Sometimes the best story doesn’t get to be told. For most hockey fans the best outcome for the 2006 Stanley Cup final would have been the Oilers holding the Stanley Cup up high, signifying a remarkable battle against all odds to claim hockey supremacy in the NHL.

It would have been the feel good story of the year a team that had been written off more times than one could care to count, only to come back game after game and defy the odds to advance further to their goal. They had the momentum with them as they entered game seven, two do or die wins in games five and six, a solid thrashing of the Hurricanes on Saturday gave may hope that the Oilers were but sixty minutes away from writing a bit of Stanley Cup history.

In the end though, history itself won out. The Carolina Hurricanes with a 3-1 victory, became the twelfth team to win the Stanley Cup in a game seven showdown on home ice, that 1942 record of the Toronto Maple Leafs still safe for the record books for another year. Going into the game, only two teams names were entered in the NHL history books for having won a game seven on visiting ice, there are still only two teams deep in the pages of the NHL holy books.

Carolina was full value for their game seven victory, they were a completely different team in the first period of game seven than that which left the Rexall Place ice on Saturday. They took the speed and the body to the Oilers, penning them in the Edmonton portion of the ice for the good part of the first period. The Oilers were rocked early on with a Hurricane goal by Adam Ward in the first ninety seconds of play, a goal that seemed to sit the Oil back for a bit as they regrouped and tried to figure a way out of their end and into the Carolina zone.

Carolina just refused to give the Oilers any ice to work with during the first two periods, they clogged the neutral zone, pinched and fore checked effectively in the Oiler zone and cleared the puck with amazing frequency in their own end. On those rare occasions that things went wrong, Cam Ward was there to stop the Oilers as he seemed to be for most of the series, a feat recorded by the awarding of the Conn Smythe trophy to Ward at the end of the game. Frantesik Kaberle put a bit of gloom into the Edmonton outlook with his timely second period goal four minutes into the second. The Canes taking advantage of the two goal bulge to tighten up the offensive zone even further and choke off many Oiler rushes before they could get untracked.

The Oilers battled back in the third, an early goal a bit more than a minute into the period by Fernando Pisani pulled the Oil to within one goal with a shot to the back of the Hurricane net. Pisani who had a remarkable playoff run, continued to be a force through the third with a second chance to tie the game up late in the third, but he could only got a piece of the puck firing a shot that went wide of the wide of the wide open net.

Once again though the undoing of the Oilers on this night was a familiar situation, another 5 on 3 advantage which they couldn’t capitalize on, Hurricane defender Mike Commodore almost willing the puck away from Oilers and keeping them off the score sheet.

The Canes put the game away for good with an empty net goal, with less than 90 seconds to go, as they pinched the puck past Chris Pronger on the Carolina blue line and then Justin Williams crossed the Oiler blue line put it into the empty Oiler net to set off the celebrations at the RBC Centre.

Game seven provided a platform for the veterans on the Carolina squad to step up and settle down their younger team mates, setting the tone for the game with hard hits and fast skating. The pace in both directions was amazing to watch, as they dashed from end to end throwing their bodies into boards, crashing nets and blocking shots. Two teams playing hockey in the middle of June, after a grinding regular season, followed by this winding road of a playoff schedule, and still they had enough gas in their tanks to put on a riveting display of Stanley Cup hockey.

Stanley gets a southern drawl this year, the Cup belongs to Raleigh. They are a team that is deserving of respect from hockey fans for their tenacity through the regular season and through the playoffs. Frequently overlooked as a serious team due to their location, they now can take a claim to hockey’s higher echelons, a solid team that won the games that needed to be won. Consisting of players that stepped up when the time came to make that definitive statement, they earned this Cup the hardest way possible, with doubters watching their every move. They hovered near the top of the East for most of the season and lasted the grueling battles of the playoffs to hoist the storied trophy in front of their home town fans.

But save some of that goodwill for the Oilers as well, a team that finished 8th overall in the West , queaking into the playoffs and a squad that finished 14th overall in the league. They came within a goal of tying the series and going to overtime, surrendering an empty netter to finally end their season. Even those fans that over the years begrudged Edmonton its success, would have to admit this was one gutsy hockey team that should be proud of a hell of a season.

The story is pretty good as it ended, but you know an Oiler victory might have added another colourful chapter not only to Oiler history, but that of Stanley Cup battles from years gone by.

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