EDMONTON -- The Stanley Cup Final has reached its first point of critical mass.
Game 4 at Rexall Place (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) will determine whether the Carolina Hurricanes can take a stranglehold on the quest for the Cup at three games to one, or we will see the Edmonton Oilers hold serve on home ice and turn the series into what will be a grueling best-of-three.
By Sunday afternoon, much of the emotion from the previous night's 2-1 Oilers win had given way to the clear light of day. The Oilers were still a very happy bunch with the win, but also realized to drop the momentum now is to place themselves in a very bad position. For the Hurricanes, the anger over Ryan Smyth's game-winning goal at 17:45 of the third period had been put in the rear-view mirror.
"I guess the only thing I would have changed is to control my rebound, not to let it pop out in front like that," Carolina goalie Cam Ward said when asked if he looked at the replay of the goal. Many 'Canes felt Smyth was in the crease at the time and the goal should have been disallowed. "I did see the replay and it is what it is, it's not something I am going to get too involved in right now because it won't really when it comes down to it. It doesn't matter what I think or what I say it's not going to change the end result. Just going to get ourselves prepared for Game 4."
Even Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour, who was livid after the game, had a different perspective.
" I don't know that we were all that upset," Brind'Amour said. "I think I was more upset that we lost. I don't know officiating, that wasn't the reason why we lost the game. That's for sure. You're just generally upset because you lose a game at the Stanley Cup Final that, you know, that's the reason. We didn't play well enough to probably win. Our power play was not very good. We had five power plays. We had ample opportunities there to score and we didn't. That's why we didn't win the game, I think.
"You know what, I think if it was the other way around and one of our guys had done it, I would have wished it to be a goal as well, so I can't really say it's not a goal," Brind'Amour said. "We had a goal disallowed in a series very similar and it was disallowed, basically saying that you can't ? a goalie has to be able to make the move to stop the puck if you are in the crease and you can't impede that. That's the explanation why our goal was disallowed and then when you look at that, you say, well how is that the same. That's the only question. I still think it should be a goal. The guy is not, I don't think, intentionally trying to go in there to knock it in. It happened to hit him as he was going, but they have said before they made a precedent that that wasn't going to be allowed. That's I think why it irks us, but that's water under the bridge now."
As Brind'Amour alluded to, the Hurricanes' power-play struggles have become their top topic of conversation as the hours to Game 4 pass.
"As far as adjustments go, I think there are things that we can do better within the system that we play," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "We have won an awful lot of games playing a certain way, and (Saturday) night I think that they outplayed us at times. At times I think we outplayed them. The scoring chances were 15 to 14 or 16 to 14. That was a pretty even game. I think rather than making changes we need to execute a little bit better, skate a little bit better, and be a little bit more disciplined. So just little things I think with inside the team itself, more so than making changes. That's not to say that we might not tweak the forecheck a little bit or look to do something different or maybe on the power play now.
"It's almost like a game within a game, now the penalty kill, their penalty kill shut down our power play pretty good. So we go back, look at it, figure out a better way to generate offense. I think there will be minor changes made. But for the most part I think we can execute a little bit better, show a little bit more discipline, skate a little bit harder."
From an Oilers perspective, coach Craig MacTavish said his team's dominance at penalty killing in Game 3 (Carolina was 0-for-5 with the man advantage) was more a case of getting back to playing the way they did before surrendering three power-play goals in a 5-0 Game 2 loss.
"I don't want to get into too much on our tactics on the penalty kill," MacTavish said. "I will just leave it with we got away from the staples of good penalty killing and we had that pretty much throughout the playoffs. We got running around in Game 2 and a lot of times (in) a lot of those situations it was a product of the score and we were trying to take short cuts, trying to take unnecessary chances, trying to get a goal and it ended up in the back of the net too often in Game 2."
Now the Oilers' power play, 1-for-20 thus far, is a bigger source of concern for MacTavish.
"No," MacTavish laughed when asked if he could comment on the Oilers' play with the man advantage. "Absolutely not ... other than to say that we have had a pretty good power play throughout these playoffs. We have won the special team game in every series that we have won. Likely going to have to do it in this one."
MacTavish then grew serious.
"We need more from our power play," he said. "I have never seen a group of players more committed or the coach, Simmer (Craig Simpson), is a terrific tactician on the power play and I have never seen a group of guys so committed to turning it around. There were some things that we're going to have to handle better than we have. Hats off to Carolina's penalty killing. Up until (Saturday) night they were winning a lot of the faceoffs which really takes you out of your setup. They are putting a lot of pressure on us. They have identified our threats on our power play very well. And we're a work in progress in terms of trying to get better and in terms of trying to counteract that."