|Bryan Heim/Portland Winterhawks
- The Edmonton Oil Kings understand the situation they're in.
Just as the Winterhawks did en route to a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Hockey League Championship Series, the Oil Kings need three straight wins to stave off elimination and advance to the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup as repeat champions.
Calling it an uphill climb would be an understatement. Everest-like challenges such as this don't get any more daunting, so the picture is being kept small.
"It's a weird feeling knowing that it could potentially be our last game," said acting captain Keegan Lowe. "Our goal is to get this back to Rexall for Game 6 and we'll go from there. We can't think about the big picture that we have to win three in a row. We have to think about taking it one game at a time.
"(Associate Coach Steve Hamilton) had a real good talk with all of us," added Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk. "He said, 'Let's take it day-by-day, let's win one more and let's get home and play one more game in front of our fans.' They deserve to see us once more.
"Then, whatever happens at home, happens, and if we happen to win, it's one more win and we'll go from there."
If the Oil Kings are going to send the series back to Edmonton for Game 6 (Sunday at 4:00p.m. MT at Rexall Place, if necessary), the Winterhawks' big line of Ty Rattie, Nick Petan and Brendan Leipsic will have to be silenced. The gunslingers have clicked for eight points in the past three games and have continuously frustrated their opponent with a quick-strike transition that's led to goals in bunches.
Still, the Oil Kings are a relaxed group heading into Game 5.
"You have to be," said goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who made 19 saves Wednesday in Game 4. "I think if you tighten up too much and grip the stick too tight, you're not going to perform. We have to stay loose and embrace the opportunity. We're here, so we may as well give it our best shot.
"It's not an easy situation to go into. But there's nothing we can do about it now. We've got to stay loose and play like we always have. We were loose during the season, we're loose now and that's what got us here. We can't change our mindset.
"We have to play and have fun."
In order to make a series of it, the Oil Kings will have to get to Winterhawks goaltender Mac Carruth. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect has been lights-out since Game 1, allowing only two goals on 105 shots.
Carruth has posted a 1.60 goals-against average and .938 percentage in the post-season.
"I have total confidence in the group," said Brossoit, who's posted similar numbers to his counterpart. "I've seen them score goals all season. I know they're capable of it and I've seen them score against these guys in Game 1. I'm going to focus on my game and hopefully I'll stop more pucks than the other guy."
"I thought we played pretty well in (Game 4)," added Lowe. "We put a lot of shots on Carruth. You could argue that some of them weren't of the quality that we need, but either way, if you're getting closer to 40 shots on goal in a game, you know you're shooting the puck enough. We've been hitting him in the chest and we haven't had the touch that we've had all season, where we were getting numerous quality scoring chances each period -- we've seen glimpses of it, but we've got to improve on it."
Lowe, a veteran defenceman that collected 15 goals and 31 points this past season, will be looking to make an impact from the back end. Not only have the Oil Kings struggled to produce at even strength, but the power-play also continues to be a source of concern.
Twenty-nine straight opportunities have passed without a power-play goal. According to Lowe, the defencemen can help create a solution.
"Even when the offence isn't struggling, if you're playing an elimination game or if you're down in a game, you have to activate on the back end," he said. "It adds a fourth layer to the attack. You have to be aware of when those guys (Rattie, Petan and Leipsic) are on the ice, because when they're there and are circling, they're a quick transition team and will burn us if we're caught up ice.
"If we have the opportunity to (activate), we're going to have to do it."
All of it contributes to a game plan that has yet to be played to perfection. Heading into Game 5, the Oil Kings have promised their best.
"As the regular season went on, we started to play our best hockey late in the year," said Laxdal. "In each playoff series, we've played better and better. In this series here, in Games 1, 2, 3 and 4, we're playing better and better every game. I expect this to be one of our best games of the series.
"We don't have to win three tonight. We only need one."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick