Shawinigan, QC - History would suggest the Edmonton Oil Kings are at their best in an elimination game.
Granted, it's only happened once this season -- a championship moment in Game 7 vs. Portland when the red and blue summoned victory, advancing to the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
With a 1-2 record and the Shawinigan Cataractes next on the docket in Thursday's tiebreaker, they're not ready to call it quits.
"Our guys know what they have to do," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal as he addressed the media pre-game at Centre Bionest. "We've faced adversity before, so we've got to prepare the same as we did against Portland. There's no room for error, no room for mistakes. We've obviously taken a different path to get to where we want to go and it's an extra game, but so be it."
The Oil Kings began the tournament with a 4-3 win over the Cataractes, but then dropped consecutive games to the Saint John Sea Dogs (5-2) and the London Knights (4-1).
London, who sported the round robin's best record at 2-1 (tied with Saint John, but earning the top spot with a 5-3 win over them), has already advanced with a bye to Sunday's Championship Final. The winner of Thursday's game between Edmonton and Shawinigan will go up against Saint John Friday night to determine the Knights' opponent.
Although the Oil Kings have already beaten Shawinigan, the club is taking a cautious approach to relying on any past success.
"It's a totally different game with different stakes," said captain Mark Pysyk, who appeared as calm, cool and collected as he normally is following Thursday's morning skate. "[Shawinigan is] going to come out a little harder. That was their first game in a month-and-a-half that we played, so they're tuned up a little bit better now.
"It was a sloppy game and we were feeling out the competition a little bit. Tonight's going to be a lot tighter."
"You've got to take anything you've done earlier in the tournament and throw it out the window," Laxdal added. "We've got to get our power-play going, we've got to have a great penalty kill and make sure we don't have any turnovers. We've got to change our game a bit. Shawinigan is going to come out with the crowd behind them, so we're going to be in a little bit of a hostile environment.
"But we've got to stick to our guns and stick to our game plan."
Coming in, the Oil Kings should be rested while the Cataractes have had a more challenging schedule in the past 24 hours. Shawinigan went up against Saint John Wednesday to determine Edmonton's opponent in tonight's tilt. It was a 60-minute war that resulted in a disappointing 4-1 loss on home ice.
How they rebound is anyone's guess, but the Oil Kings' bench boss is expecting nothing but their best.
"They're going to have the same emotion that they had in Game 1," he said. "They're going to be ready to go and that goes for us, too. We've got to try and put our best game of the tournament out on the ice. From here on in, it's a do-or-die situation and I think it's going to make for a great hockey game.
"We've got to make sure we bring our ‘A' game tonight."
Accomplishing it won't be easy. While Edmonton's regular-season guns -- such as Michael St. Croix (105 points in 72 games) and 20-year-old Tyler Maxwell (71 in 66) -- have essentially been silenced, Shawinigan's leading scorers continue to roll along. Michael Chaput has posted three goals and six points in the tournament and is tied at the top with Saint John's Jonathan Huberdeau.
"It hasn't really changed (our mindset) at all," said Keegan Lowe, who's been diligently working at shutting down other clubs' dynamic attackers. "There are some great players in this tournament, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Portland had (Ty) Rattie, Sven (Bartschi), so it's the same kind of thing."
Even with the Cataractes' lethal arsenal, the captain isn't concerned. As the team's leader both on and off the ice, he's committed to bringing a calming presence that has helped in a time when the group needs it most.
A three-game losing skid hasn't happened all season. Certainly, now would be the most detrimental time to see it.
"We're staying the course," said the 19-year-old, shrugging his shoulders to let the big-game pressure roll right off. "Everybody's still in the tournament and everyone's going to be up in an elimination game at some point, so it's not that unusual.
"But we've got to play it as if it's Game 7."
It may as well be.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com on location in Shawinigan and Trois Rivieres, Quebec