|Photo by Brad Watson / Calgary Hitmen
- The Battle of Alberta is going to Game 7.
With their season on the line, the Calgary Hitmen rallied back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, scoring three unanswered to defeat the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Championship Sunday at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Brooks Macek scored the winner 6:59 into the fourth period.
The seventh and deciding game goes Tuesday night at Rexall Place (7:00p.m.). The winner will advance to face the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Final.
"It stings," said an almost speechless Stephane Legault post-game. "We had a two-goal lead going into the third and couldn't lock it down like we wanted. We had a couple good chances and we didn't bury them. It sucks right now, it stings right now, but we have to put it behind us because we've got a Game 7 coming up here."
"They were playing desperation hockey and they out-worked us," added Keegan Lowe. "We haven't played desperation hockey since the Memorial Cup last year and we'll have to now. Everybody knows how to play in games like this. Everybody has played in a Game 7 or a sudden-death kind of thing at some point in their career, so we're going to be ready to go."
Ashton Sautner, Curtis Lazar and Legault each scored for the Oil kings, while Macek (2), Spencer Humphries and Brady Brassart tallied for the home side.
"Everybody expected [a series like] this," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "Give Calgary credit because they answered the bell here tonight. Down 3-1 going into the third with their backs against the wall, they played well and had a good pushback.
"We had some chances in overtime and didn't bury them. You know what happens after that happens. They usually come back the other way and score. If you let a team hang around, they're going to gain a little confidence and a little momentum. That's exactly what they did."
For a lot of the night, it looked as though it could have been a rout. Controlling the pace throughout, the Oil Kings led 2-0 after one period of play.
Sautner opened the scoring at 13:27, rocketing a shot over Chris Driedger's right shoulder after stepping up and collecting a loose puck in the slot. Since being reinserted after sitting as a healthy scratch in Game 1, Sautner has recorded three goals and four points in the series.
Potting his team-leading ninth goal of the post-season, Lazar extended the lead with less than three minutes to play in the period. Rushing end-to-end and facing three Hitmen defenders in his sights, Lazar cut into the high slot and whipped a wicked wrist shot past the sour netminder.
Laurent Brossoit wasn't overly busy in the opening 20, but was exceptional when called upon. On a partial odd-man rush early on, Jake Virtanen and Cody Sylvester orchestrated a wonderful scoring chance, but Brossoit smothered the diagonal redirect.
Edmonton had the lone power-play chance of the period, but failed to convert after Hitmen defenceman Alex Roach was flagged for holding.
Giving his team a chance, Driedger came up with a sensational save early in the period. On a 2-on-0 deep in the slot, Michael St. Croix dished off to TJ Foster on the opposite side. With an open net to shoot for, Driedger (somehow) dove across and came up with a ridiculous desperation save, swatting the puck to safety with the backside of his paddle.
Feeding off the momentum, Calgary made a game of it moments later. On a shot Brossoit would like to have back, Humphries beat the veteran with a soft slap shot from the board-side edge of the near faceoff circle.
The Hitmen were given a power-play chance at 7:22 was Edgars Kulda was assessed a minor for cross-checking. While Calgary brought the shot count a little closer (14-13), Brossoit rebounded well after his earlier gaffe and the 2-1 game continued.
Brossoit made 32 saves on the night, but was bested by his counterpart, Driedger, who stopped 36.
"I thought Driedger was the better goaltender tonight," said Laxdal. "He made more quality saves than our goaltender."
As the Hitmen pressed for the equalizer, Legault silenced the 8,687 in attendance with a massive goal late in the period. Leading the rush and working the dump-and-chase to perfection with Dylan Wruck, Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk was instrumental in setting it up. With a centering pass sitting at the lip of the crease, Legault swooped in and banged home his own rebound to restore the club's two-goal edge.
A pair of power-play goals then turned the tide.
Just seven seconds into the third (on a brief 5-on-3 power-play), the Hitmen made it a one-goal game once again. Wide open in the slot, Brassart one-timed a shot high over Brossoit's glove, reenergizing the lifeless Saddledome with the club's most important goal of the season.
"A little bit," said Legault when asked if he felt the momentum shift in Calgary's favour at that point. "The building got going, but we tried to calm down on the bench. We still had the lead and I thought we pushed back -- but we didn't capitalize on any of our power-plays and that cost us.
"They executed far better than us."
Playing as if their playoff lives depended on it (and it did), the Hitmen kept coming.
With Ewanyk off serving an elbowing minor, the Hitmen brought the game back on even terms as Macek walked in and wired a wrist shot past Brossoit at 7:56.
With a glorious opportunity to pull ahead late as Elliott Peterson sat for boarding, the Oil Kings couldn't muster any traction. Just as it had all night (going 0-for-5), the power-play failed them. The Hitmen, on the other hand, scored two on four opportunities.
"We need to get our shots to the net (on the power-play)," said Lowe. "We have all the pieces to have a strong power-play. We have a tremendous amount of skill up front on the back end with Marty Gernat, Corbs (Cody Corbett) and Sauts (Ashton Sautner). We need to put it together and get it rolling, because they're taking a lot of penalties and we need to make them pay for it."
At 6:59 of overtime and with little backpressure to contend with, Macek waltzed in to the top of the faceoff circle and snapped a perfect shot up and over Brossoit to win it.
"It all happened really quick. It was a nice little play -- a nice shot," said Lowe who, along with Oilers prospect David Musil, picked up a dash on the overtime-winner.
It's the third time this post-season that the Oil Kings have lost in overtime.
"It's going to be a battle on Tuesday night," said Laxdal. "We've got to be ready because both teams are facing elimination now."
Added Legault: "We've got home ice and we have to take advantage of that."OIL SPILLS:
Questionable to dress as a result of a lower-body injury, Trevor Cheek did suit up but didn't take a shift after the first period.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick