|Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
- As far as Head Coach Derek Laxdal and the Edmonton Oil Kings are concerned, this is no time to panic.
Still, down 2-1 to the Portland Winterhawks and convinced they haven't yet shown their best, Game 4 (7:00p.m. at Rexall Place) has the feel of an elimination game.
No matter what, the series is heading back to Portland for Game 5 on Friday. It's up to the Oil Kings to decide whether or not they'll be facing a 3-1 series deficit, or a much-preferred 2-2 tie.
"I can honestly say I don't think we've played our best in the series yet," said Laxdal. "We had a meeting this morning and it's in all areas of the ice that we've got to shore up -- and it starts in the offensive zone. In the second and third periods (in Game 3), we started to have a little more time in the zone and we created some scoring chances."
Adding acting captain, defenceman Keegan Lowe: "We had a couple chances that we probably should have buried. It could have been a different game after that. We have to know that when we're doing things right, we're able to control the game and when we're doing that for a full 60 minutes, we have success and win games.
"We're a team that thrives on momentum and when we get the momentum at the start of the game, we're usually doing well."
Tuesday night, the Oil Kings were punished by only playing 40.
Spotting the Winterhawks a 3-0 lead in the opening 16 minutes, the Oil Kings did rally back to make a game of it, however. Michael St. Croix scored his 11th of the post-season at 9:13 of the second period, but Mac Carruth shut the door after that.
The Oil Kings peppered the Chicago Blackhawks prospect with 20 shots in the third, but couldn't engineer another goal.
"The workload for Carruth has been very minimal in this series except for Game 1," said Laxdal. "We have to get pucks in deep and establish a bit of a forecheck. We had a good third period last night and we have to build off that right at puck drop."
"It's the same situation we had against Calgary and the guys responded well that game," added TJ Foster, who recorded an assist on St. Croix's goal. "You know you can't go down 3-1 in a series like this. We've prepared all year for a game like this and I'm sure the guys will be ready to step up."
The Oil Kings have spoken at length this series about the need to gain the line, chip the puck in deep and get in hard on the forecheck. Led by Seth Jones, Derrick Pouliot, Troy Rutkowski and Tyler Wotherspoon, however, Portland's blue line clogs up the middle of the ice extremely well.
"Speed. You've got to break out with some speed and transition with speed," said Laxdal. "They do it really solidly, stay up in the neutral zone and have great backside pressure. They're probably the best team I've seen in my three years in the League. It's a credit to their coaching staff to get their players to play like that. And we all know how tough it is to get goal-scorers to backcheck, but it's what we need to do."
If the Oil Kings can, indeed, skate up and get the puck deep behind their defence, offence should come as a result. That tactic proved successful in Game 1 when the club not only generated a number of high-quality, even-strength scoring chances, but power-plays as well.
The man-advantage is currently mired in a stretch of 25 straight opportunities without a goal.
But according to Foster, results aren't far off.
"We're not getting as much offence as we'd like," he said, admittedly stating the obvious. "The power-play is struggling, but we're only getting one a game. You want to get on the power-play and get some offence, some zone time. But you can't worry about that. Our focus needs to be on sticking to the game plan and getting some pucks past Carruth."
On the other end of the special teams spectrum, the Oil Kings are giving themselves a chance. The PK has killed 13 of 14 Winterhawks power-plays (93%) this series.
"We didn't take as many penalties as we have been, which is good for our penalty-killers," said Lowe. "You're going to get penalties throughout the game -- it's inevitable. But three or less (power-plays against) is usually our goal."
It's a step in the right direction.
And there's a reason the defending champs won 51 regular season games this year. Never count them out.
"There's always more we can give," said Lowe. "In these past few games, we've shown signs of our best and then in the first period last night, we gave up a couple goals and got down early. In the game before as well, we took a couple penalties and got down early. We have to come out hard. At our best points in the season we were getting good starts and were shocking teams right from the start.
"That's what we need to do tonight."
"We're playing for a championship and the right to move on to the Memorial Cup," added Laxdal. "Our kids have to recognize that and bring their 'A' game. It's plain and simple."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick