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Oil Kings look to take control in WHL Eastern Conference Final

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

- Tonight the Edmonton Oil Kings take on the Calgary Hitmen in Game 3 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.

Due to a quirk in the schedule as a result of limited building availability in both cities, Games 3 and 4 (like Games 1 and 2) will be played on back-to-back nights, tonight and tomorrow at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Coming off a 6-0 win this past Friday in Game 2 -- a contest in which 147 minutes in penalties were assessed (101 to the Hitmen), resulting in 14 separate power-plays for the home side -- the Oil Kings know discipline will be key.

"When you're in the heat of the moment and are in such an emotional battle, you've got to control it," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "The Hitmen were trying to send a message. We responded well and didn't get caught up in it."

"It's a big part of hockey and the team that's most disciplined is going to have a better chance to win," added Michael St. Croix. "Special teams are huge in the playoffs and we have to keep working on our power-play to keep getting wins."

St. Croix is tied with Henrik Samuelsson for the team lead in post-season scoring with six goals and 14 points in 11 games. He recorded an assist on a power-play goal by Martin Gernat in Friday's win.

It was one of four successful conversions on the night, all of which came in the third period after the club failed to generate a goal on nine opportunities through 40 minutes. As a result, a game that should have been in the Oil Kings' control earlier on remained in up for grabs until the Hitmen lost interest.

"We had some chances that didn't want to go in, but you have to stick with it and persevere," said St. Croix. "We have the best power-play in the League for a reason. We knew we had the guys to go out and get some goals and that showed in the third period."

"When you get a lot of power-plays, frustration can set in pretty quick," added Laxdal. "That could be a real momentum-changer in the game. The big thing for us is we have to make sure we get to those hard areas to score goals.

"We saw a few tendencies (in Calgary) that we hope we can exploit."

Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger was certainly adding to the frustrating. The 19-year-old was sensational in Game 1 and was brilliant again in Game 2 despite the loss, stopping 40 of the Oil Kings' 44 shots.

The Winnipeg, MB product has a 1.94 goals-against average and .942 save percentage so far in the playoffs.

As veteran defenceman and alternate captain Keegan Lowe explains, getting a better interior and net-front presence will help make life difficult in the Calgary crease.

"Our lack of success on the power-play early on was frustrating, but you try not to think about it too much," he said. "We have to stay loose, not grip our sticks too tight and stay with it by getting pucks and bodies to the net. It was nice to get to (Driedger) a little bit in the third period and it's given us a positive frame of mind when it comes to our power-play heading into Game 3."

Just as it was in Game 2, Lowe and the Oil Kings are expecting tonight's encounter to be another special teams battle.

"The Hitmen learned it the hard way last game," said Lowe. "Fortunately for us, we got to learn from their mistakes and see that they're calling it tight. If you lose your emotions, they're not going to feel bad for you and stop calling penalties."

One of Calgary's 29 infractions in Game 2 was assessed late when Pavlo Padakin hit Ashton Sautner with a blatant cheap shot from behind, resulting in a myriad of penalties and scarred tempers.

"The game got a little bit out of hand last time," said Lowe, "and we don't forget about things like that. But in the playoffs you have to learn to start fresh each game, so we're not trying to carry too much over from the previous one."

"It was 1-0 going into the third and was anybody's game still," added TJ Foster, who registered an assist on the power-play as a result of Calgary's late wrongdoings. "Emotions run high and it's a pretty serious game there, so sometimes that happens.

"You don't want to cross it, but you do want to play on the line."

The Oil Kings will need to play on the edge of it tonight as they look to steal home ice advantage back. Edmonton posted a 2-0-1-0 record against the Hitmen at Scotiabank Saddledome in 2012-13  and is currently 4-0-0 on the road this post-season.

Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. MT.

OIL SPILLS: Defenceman Cody Corbett will not be available to play in Games 3 or 4. The 19-year-old suffered a "lower-body" injury after being clipped by Hitmen rookie Jake Virtanen in the second period of Game 2. Virtanen was assessed a major penalty for kneeing on the play and has been suspended.

The length of the suspension is still to be determined.

It's expected that Dysin Mayo will return to the lineup in Corbett's place.

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