- Over the course of his WHL career, Winterhawks netminder Mac Carruth has developed a bit of a reputation.
As his 12-4-0 post-season record, 1.77 goals-against average and .930 save percentage suggests, he's easily one of the League's best goaltenders.
But he's also one of the most emotional.
"If we can take him off his game, even a little bit, by getting pressure in the crease, putting pucks on net, driving hard and maybe giving him a little bump on the way by, that's what we have to do," said Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk, who scored in Game 1 and his graciously accepting of his role as an instigator.
With the Oil Kings leading 2-0 in the second period of Game 1 of the Western Hockey League Championship Series Friday night, players, coaches, media and all 10,097 in attendance were witness to Carruth's hotheadedness.
Oilers prospect Mitch Moroz drove the net hard and was assessed a slashing penalty after poking at a loose puck up in the grill of the 21-year-old puck-stopper. As he's done countless times in the past, Carruth sprung to his feet and was soon the centre of attention in a spirited crease-side melee.
The Oil Kings went on to 4-1 with Carruth making only 25 saves on 29 shots.
"I like to chirp back," said Carruth, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect. "When their whole bench is giving it to you, you know you're doing something right.
"I think we frustrated ourselves last night. I don't think they frustrated us. Obviously they're a good team and are pretty similar to us. They had a lot of high-quality scoring chances and when that happens, you're not happy about the situation. It turned into a bit of a run-and-gun game and we weren't happy about it."
Carruth, a seventh-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2010, signed his three-year entry-level contract last spring. Playing in the WHL Final for a third consecutive year and with this being his last kick at the can before turning pro, he wants nothing more than to go out on top.
"You don't want to lose. As easy as it is to say, it hurts," said Carruth. "Losing the last two years in a row, I can still feel the pain. I'm hoping we can all learn from last night. It's going to take a full 60 minutes and we only played 25. The Hockey Gods weren't smiling on us last night and that fourth goal (a lucky bounce to Curtis Lazar) really summed up our night. We had a couple bad bounces here and there, but we need to be better."
So do the Oil Kings, according to Head Coach Derek Laxdal: "It's good to get right back at it tonight."
The club had a sloppy start to Game 1, but thanks in large part to Laurent Brossoit's brilliance in stopping 35 on the night, they rebounded well after surviving an early onslaught.
The line of Curtis Lazar, Henrik Samuelsson and Stephane Legault combined to record three goals and three assists in the win.
Legault in particular was instrumental in turning the tide, pressuring the Winterhawks defence (Troy Rutkowski probaby didn't sleep well last night) and forcing turnovers as a result of a tenacious forecheck.
"Both teams want to be physical. That's part of the game and that's why we had some success last night," said Laxdal. "We want to get in on their defence and create turnovers. We also want to work hard to get to the net and get to those battle areas. Portland backpressures the puck very well in the neutral zone and when they do that, it really limits our opportunity to go on the attack.
"We need to be moving our feet well in the neutral zone so we can gain the line, get pucks deep and put it in places where we can establish an effective forecheck."
"We have to do better," added Ewanyk. "I don't think we got enough pucks behind their D and got enough bodies on them. I think they move the puck incredibly well and they have some big studs back there, so that needs to be our focus tonight."
Outshooting the Winterhawks 23-20 in Periods 2 and 3, the Oil Kings were the better team for much of the night.
And a lot of that had to do with the team's commitment to shot blocking. The WHL doesn't track those stats quite as well as the NHL does, but the Oil Kings' team statistician counted 26, many of which were credited to Lazar.
"I thought I'd be a little more sore today," laughed Lazar. "Being a Canucks fan, what comes to mind for me is Ryan Johnson and how committed he was to shot blocking back when he played. The goal is to get in that lane and do whatever it takes to stop the shot. If it doesn't get there, it's less work for our goalie."
"If you're going to win in the playoffs, you're going to have to sacrifice," added Laxdal. "You've got to put your body on the line and do the little things to win games. I thought our guys did that very well in Game 1 and we need to continue to do it to have success here tonight."
With the Oil Kings already in possession of home ice advantage as a result of Friday's win, they now have a chance to exceed expectations and return home to Edmonton with a 2-0 series lead.
"We got the split. When you go in and you don't have home ice, that's what you want," said Ewanyk. "But to get two wins would be a great start to the series for us.
"That's what we're looking for tonight."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick