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2006 NHL STANLEY CUP PREVIEW

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
The 2006 Stanley Cup Final matches the Southeast Division champion Carolina Hurricanes against the Western Conference's No. 8 seed, the Edmonton Oilers. On season-long form, this should be no contest, but the history of recent weeks shows there's no status quo in the playoffs.


The Hurricanes accumulated 17 more points during the regular season than the Oilers, scored 28 more goals, but surrendered nine more goals. Carolina outscored opponents by 34 goals this season, Edmonton by five. Carolina and Edmonton didn't meet during the regular season.

The data from the regular season is irrelevant, as is your pre-March 5 evaluation of the Edmonton Oilers. On that day, Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe traded for goalie Dwayne Roloson and that changed everything, including the way the Oilers play and their confidence.

Roloson leads the playoffs with 12 wins. Carolina's Cam Ward is next with 11. Roloson is second behind Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov, who the Oilers sent to the bench, with a .931 save percentage. Ward's is .919. Ward is second behind Bryzgalov with a 2.09 goals-against average. Roloson is third with a 2.22 GAA.

Edmonton is scoring 3.18 goals per game in the Playoffs, Carolina, 3. The Hurricanes surrender 2.44 goals per game, Edmonton, 2.47.

Not much to choose between on statistics, although Edmonton leads the playoffs by killing off 88.6 percent of its penalties while Carolina is at 83.7 percent. Carolina is best with a 25.9 percent success rate on power plays while Edmonton is 19.8 percent. As has been the case throughout the Playoffs, special teams figure to be very important.

The Hurricanes have a strong cast of veteran forwards including captain Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman, Mark Recchi, Doug Weight, Justin Williams, Craig Adams, Kevyn Adams and Matt Cullen, bolstered by young stars Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd and Chad LaRose. The defense is very solid with Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward, Frankie Kaberle, Mike Commodore, Bret Hedican and Nik Wallin. They've got the veteran Oleg Tverdovsky in reserve. Martin Gerber ably backs up Ward in net.

The Oilers have a solid corps of defensive defensemen, some with offensive skills. Former Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger is seen by outsiders as the leader of the defense, but that honor actually belongs to longtime captain Jason Smith. Smith's teammates speak with reverence of his toughness, character and leadership, to say nothing of his on-ice skills. Pronger, a captain in St. Louis, picked up points with his new teammates and significantly strengthened the squad's character by supporting Smith's leadership. His reward is a backbreaking average of 31:34 minutes per game in the playoffs. He's a big guy and he can handle it.

Those two are solidly backed by Jaroslav Spacek and Steve Staios. Second-year defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron is giving the Oilers a solid 14:43 minutes per game and rookie Matt Greene hasn't hurt the team while averaging 9:46 in 11 games. The only disappointment has been Dick Tarnstrom, acquired in a Jan. 26 trade to add scoring punch from the point on power plays. Tarnstrom has played in only seven Playoff games.

One of the Oilers' strengths is that an opponent can't focus defensively on one or two lines. The Oilers are getting scoring from all four lines. Ten forwards have three or more goals. Shawn Horcoff has emerged as the Playoffs team scoring leader with five goals and 12 assists. Edmonton native Fernando Pisani has been this year's goal-scoring star with nine goals and three assists. Ryan Smyth and Michael Peca both have five goals. Forwards Ales Hemsky and Jarret Stoll have four goals as does Pronger, who is tied with Horcoff with 17 points.

Coach Peter Laviolette brilliantly adapted the Hurricanes' individual attributes into a team game that excelled under the new rules and standard of rules enforcement. The Hurricanes dashed to an early season division lead, never stumbled and defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the division by 20 points. It was an awesome season-long performance.

In analyzing Edmonton, we see a team with a core that has played together for a long time, augmented last summer by the additions of Pronger and Peca, further strengthened in January by the additions of Spacek and Tarnstrom and finished off in March with the acquisitions of Roloson, Samsonov and Rem Murray. The offense is varied, the defense experienced, effective and respected and the goalie impenetrable.

They have a blend of youth and experience. The coaching is experienced and clever. The Oilers excel on special teams.

The Hurricanes lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series to the Montreal Canadiens, then swept to four-straight victories. They then eliminated the New Jersey Devils in five games. They were all out for a seven-game win over a Buffalo team with a depleted defense.

In the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Edmonton defeated the best team in the regular season, the Central Division and Presidents' Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings. They then dispatched the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Every opponent went away thinking they played better, but failed to solve the Oilers' shot blocking and opportunistic scoring.

In theory, the Oilers, who will have nine days off, should be well rested to take on a team that had a fatiguing series. But the Hurricanes have almost four days to rest in their hometowns. There should be no excuses for either side.

For more information on the Stanley Cup Finals, check out nhl.com

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