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Hitmen take Game 1 of Eastern Conference Final

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.

- The Edmonton Oil Kings are in unfamiliar territory.

Six series' and counting dating back to last year when they went all the way to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the Oil Kings hadn't lost a Game 1.

Until tonight.

Edmonton rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the third period, but Brady Brassart spoiled to the party by scoring the winner 1:44 into overtime, giving the Calgary Hitmen a 1-0 series lead in the WHL Eastern Conference Final.

Curtis Lazar was mere inches away from ending it 10 seconds earlier, striking the crossbar behind Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger. Back the other way, Brassart capitalized on a fortuitous bounce in the slot, sliding the puck into the empty net as Laurent Brossoit scrambled to get back in position.

"Yeah, I had some space there," said Lazar. "Tristan Jarry was the one telling me to try it short-side shelf, but it's a game of inches and that one didn't go my way. I really wanted to see that one go in, but it happens. I'll get it next time."

"That's how our night went," added Brossoit. "We kept putting pucks on Driedger and crashing the net and they get one like that. It was an unlucky bounce, but we're not going to get too down on ourselves. We're going to return tomorrow and give it a solid effort."

Brossoit, who came into the night sporting a .963 save percentage in the post-season, made 16 saves on 19 shots in the loss.

"It's a seven-game series and we know that," said Travis Ewanyk, a prospect of the Oilers. "We came back in that Portland series last year with our backs against the wall, so we know how to rally and how not to get down. We've been here before and we're a veteran team.

"We didn't play awful tonight, but we didn't play our best. Knowing we were right in it, that's a positive to take from it."

The Hitmen opened the scoring 85 seconds into the game as Victor Rask wheeled down the wing and wristed a shot past Brossoit, fooling him glove side on a shot he'd like to have back.

Rask continues to lead the Hitmen in playoff scoring with five goals and 14 points in 11 games.

"It changes the whole game plan and takes the energy out of the building," said Laxdal. "We need a save to gain a little traction and get a little confidence, especially after having a week off."

"I would like that one back," added Brossoit, quickly shrugging it off and re-focusing on Friday night's Game 2. "We needed a stop there. I felt like it turned into a momentum-builder for them. I'll be ready to go from the drop of the puck tomorrow."

Brooks Macek nearly made it a 2-0 game less than a minute later when he pounced on a rebound at the doorstep, but his backhand try was denied by the goaltender.

From then on, it was all Edmonton in the opening 20. While the Oil Kings tested Driedger with nine shots after Rask's goal, the Hitmen failed to generate a single one on Brossoit in the final 17 minutes of the first.

With 1:05 to play, Ewanyk rocked Hitmen defenceman Peter Kosterman with a thunderous (and clean) hit at the Calgary blue line.

That's the Battle of Alberta we were expecting.

Jaynen Rissling and Oil Kings nemesis Greg Chase both came to the defence of their teammate, but the brief dust-ups with Ewanyk and Mitch Moroz didn't last long.

Rissling and Chase were each assessed roughing minors, while Kosterman was charged with cross-checking. As a result of the melee, the Oil Kings went to their second power-play of the night -- 54 seconds of which rolled into the middle frame, but the home side couldn't cash.

"I have to bring energy and I thought our line did very well in getting on them early and being physical," said Ewanyk. "We knew our matchup was going to be pretty intense. Rask is a big body and we're always looking to get hits on him and the other skilled guys to make it hard on them."

In addition to the thunderous hits and chippy play between the whistles, there was plenty of action between the benches, too. ‘The game within the game' was on display, with both teams doing their best to get the other off their game.

"I'm probably more of the instigator, so it's not a problem," said Ewanyk. "I love skating by their bench and having them all hollering at me. If they're worried about me, they're not worried about the play. We've got to be really careful, though. They were calling everything out there -- Marty (Gernat) put a guy in a little headlock and got a roughing penalty out of it."

The ramped-up physical play got overly emotional for Keegan Lowe early in the second. The Carolina Hurricanes draft pick was penalized for roughing at 3:15, giving the visitors their first power-play of the night.

All of 17 seconds later and on their second shot of the period, the Hitmen extended their lead. Spencer Humphries backpedaled into the high slot and launched blistering slap shot that was redirected home by Zane Jones at the lip of the crease.

After Alex Roach lofted a clearing attempt high into Section 101 -- resulting in a delay of game minor at 7:37 -- the Oil Kings went back to the man-advantage but, as he had been all game, Driedger was exceptional and the 2-0 score remained.

For a little while, anyway.

On their 24th shot with 6:18 to play in the second, the Oil Kings finally solved Driedger. Capping a relentless shift and with space to pick his spot after accepting Michael St Croix's pinpoint delivery, Trevor Cheek unloaded with a perfectly placed wrist shot into the upper third of the net.

Henrik Samuelsson brought the Oil Kings back on even terms with a sorely needed power-play goal late in the game (13:05). With Moroz and Wruck doing the spadework to set it up, the skillful Phoenix Coyotes draft pick easily guided a cross-crease pass into the empty cage behind the helpless Hitmen goalie.

The Oil Kings led 33-18 in shots after 60 minutes, but the Hitmen only needed one in the extra frame to lift themselves to a 3-2 win and 1-0 series lead.

"Give them full credit. They came in here and played a great game," said Laxdal. "That game's done and we have to reset and get ready for tomorrow night.

"We have to be better than we were tonight."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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