RALEIGH, N.C. - In one sentence, Ryan Smyth summed up the feelings of both the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes on the eve of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's time to play," said Smyth, the Oilers' veteran forward.
And play they will tonight (8 p.m. ET, OLN, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) as the Hurricanes play host to the Oilers with the Stanley Cup on the line.
The Oilers have been off since eliminating the Anaheim Ducks May 27th and Edmonton is eager to get its act together and get going again. The Hurricanes have had a much shorter time off since eliminating the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals June 1.
Teams with time off have not fared well this postseason. But for the Oilers, the break was a tonic in ridding the team of a lingering flu bug that had plagued most of the team against Anaheim. Smyth said in recent days, the players have gotten back into the swing of things.
"The last couple of practices that we had were more of a scrimmage and they were a little more intense," Smyth said. "I think if it went on a little bit longer, we'd get in scraps."
"I don't think it'll be a problem,'' center Michael Peca said. "I don't think anybody wants eight days without hockey. But we did have some guys who were sick, some guys who needed that time. I think it'll pay off for us."
The teams did not face each other during the regular season, so there is an element of the unknown here, but players and coaches from both sides expect the series to be fast, hard hitting and entertaining.
"It will be a battle," Oilers forward Jarret Stoll
said. "Definitely it's going to be interesting. They have got a lot of good shooters out there. They move the puck pretty quick and they don't waste time out there, they like to get the puck to the net and we're going to have to do a great job blocking shots and not letting them set up the way they want to. Just make it tough for them and make them force a decision, force a pass, just take them out of their ordinary feel, and that's what we did against Detroit and that's what we're going to have to do here."
Stoll doesn't sound like he isn't familiar with the Hurricanes now does he?
"That's where you've got to do your scouting, get your video sessions in and learn about them and whoever executes the best is going to win the series," Stoll continued. "Discipline, all of these things that come into factor, specialty teams that are huge on playoffs are going to have to be huge again.
"It's no secret what's going to win this series. You've just got to execute your system and your game plan to a tee. They don't know us very well and we don't know them, it's going to be a battle."
For Carolina, the second-seeded team in the East, it will be a case of continuing to do the things that have made the club such a success this season, namely playing a team-oriented game.
"Well, we've relied on our entire lineup throughout the year and picking people to step up at different times," coach Peter Laviolette said. "What (GM) Jim (Rutherford) said is true, one of the greatest points we have is the depth of our attack, whether it's forwards, defense or goaltending.
"Both goaltenders have carried us at some point through the course of the season. You know, Marty had an opportunity at the beginning of the playoffs and it didn't go his way. He was battling the flu and had some tough periods, but Martin Gerber is a reason we finished as high as we did and maintained home ice here in the Finals. Cam came in in a pinch-hit performance that night against Montreal and he played real well, so we went back with Cam and he ran with it. He played extremely well."
To no one's surprise, goaltending will be a pivotal factor. Ward, the talented rookie, has exuded confidence and shook off the rare defeat in getting the Hurricanes to within four wins of the Stanley Cup. In the other net, Dwayne Roloson has more than justified the first-round pick it will cost the Oilers for acquiring him at the trade deadline from Minnesota.
"I've said all along I don't want to pinch myself quite yet," Ward said. "Obviously we're having the ride of our life here and doing everything I can to enjoy it. But, you know, I did get some playoff experience at the junior level and last season in the American Hockey League. I realize it's a whole different level, but at the same time I'm trying to use that and carry it on over to this stage."