Edmonton, AB - Led by their captain, the Edmonton Oil Kings are now only one win away from winning the WHL Championship.
Mark Pysyk collected a goal -- including the game-winner with only 55 seconds to play -- and an assist in a dramatic 4-3 win over the Portland Winterhawks in Game 5 at Rexall Place.
"Oh, absolutely," he said, laughing hysterically and noting that he hasn't scored a bigger goal in his career. "I don't think I've scored too many, so there aren't many I can compare it to.
"I got the middle to try and get a better shooting angle. He (goaltender Mac Carruth) was probably expecting a hard shot and I think I fooled him with a knuckle puck. It was pretty much like overtime where you try and get everything you can on net."
Cody Corbett, Ashton Sautner and Ryan Dech have all struggled in the post-season, meaning Pysyk's role is now larger than it's ever been. And he's handling it like a pro.
"I think when the team's having success, everybody's level of play is elevated," he said. "You bank on each other and everybody brings each other up. Everyone in the room is playing the best hockey we've ever played as a team."
"Marky's been a horse in this series," Head Coach Derek Laxdal added. "He's penalty killing, he's matching lines, he's on the power-play. His leadership on the ice is second-to-none and he showed it with that game-winning goal.
The winning goal at 19:06 was a crushing blow to the visitors who'd dominated the third period, stunned by a shot Carruth would love to have back.
"He's been a wall all year," said Winterhawks captain Will Wrenn. "We can't blame that (goal) on him. I know it's a cliché, but we win as a team and lose as a team. It's all positive right now because we need him in Game 6."
The Winterhawks wasted little time in getting on the board, scoring at the 1:45 mark when the series' leading scorer, Flames prospect Sven Bartschi, set it up. From behind the net as he evaded a stick check, Bartschi located a wide-open Marcel Noebels in the deep slot. The pass connected and was hammered home past Laurent Brossoit on Portland's fourth shot.
Still, Brossoit stopped 28 shots in the win.
"On any live puck, LB's got a chance on it; until it's in the back of the net, he's got a chance on it," Laxdal said of his goalie. "He's been outstanding in the series. He wants that challenge, he wants that opportunity to make that big save and win it for the team. It starts on the backend with our hockey club. If LB's outstanding, the rest of our group seems to step up."
The Oil Kings' attack sputtered in the early-going, which included passive power-plays 3:11 and 14:22 as Brendan Leipsic and Joey Baker were each assessed minor penalties. But unlike in previous games, it didn't take the catcher all night to come back.
Late in the period with exactly two minutes on the clock, the club's 20-year-olds continued their recent surge. Rhett Rachinski did some great work along the wall, freeing it to a streaking Jordan Peddle. No. 17 shifted to the slot and rifled a wrister top shelf on Carruth.
"I'm playing hockey like it's my last shift out there," Peddle said. "I'm 20 years old and I could possibly only have one game left in this league."
Portland held an 11-10 shot lead through 20 minutes.
4:44 into the second, the Oil Kings grabbed the lead. On a simple and harmless looking play at the line, Griffin Reinhart bulleted a point shot down a gaping lane It was tracking wide, but an opposing player happened to be in the right spot as it caromed off a Portland shin pad and in.
Just as both teams have done all series, the Winterhawks made short work in climbing back into it. Just 43 seconds later, Ty Rattie added another to his playoff-leading goal-scoring total, pouncing on a loose puck in the crease to cash the equalizer.
The goal required video review, but was deemed good after a lengthy discussion with the crew upstairs.
Although physical play had made way for free-flowing, back-and-forth action in Game 4 at the Rose Garden, it made a triumphant return courtesy of Curtis Lazar near the second's midway point.
Lazar, 6'0" and 189 pounds, lined up a similar-sized Leipsic just inside the home side's blueline, causing them both to crumble to the ice as the 11,077 in attendance at Rexall Place roared in appreciation.
Edmonton regained its one-goal advantage at 7:20, building on the momentum generated by Lazar's crushing open-ice blow. Starting in his own end as he saw lanes erasing up ice, Pysyk raced end-to-end and soon found himself in on a 2-on-1 with Peddle.
No. 3 delivered a long-range wrister on goal, but Carruth couldn't handle it as the rebound dropped to his feet. A back-checking Noebels couldn't clear it either, as Peddle picked his pocket in tight and buried the puck with a strong backhander at 7:20.
But the game isn't over until Bartschi decides it is. On a play eerily similar to the opening goal, Noebels dished to the Swiss sniper who cashed the equalizer at 5:07 of the third period.
Bartschi has now scored seven goals and nine points in the series.
"I've seen that play before -- about two days ago," Laxdal chuckled.
"[Peddle, Rhett Rachinski and Mitch Moroz have] been outstanding in this series in a shut down role," he added. "(Broncos Head Coach) Mark Lamb told me, 'You're getting one hell of a playoff player' and Jordan's proving him right. He's been a great leader on the penalty kill and he's scored some big goals for us. We need that secondary scoring, we need that leadership and our 20s have been outstanding so far."
"They're incredible hockey players," Peddle said of Rattie and Bartschi. "It's our job to shut them down as best we can, but as long as our team scores more goals than theirs, we did well."
The Oil Kings were outshot 11-9 in the third and were on their heels for most of it, but Pysyk's goal was as timely as they come. It was as simple as they come, too -- snapping a wrister off a harmless-looking rush from well out in the slot.
"We've got to play with urgency (Saturday in Game 6)," he explained. "We took them lightly when Rattie was out, and we can't do anything like that again. We've got to go right at them on."
"It's going to be a pretty hectic place in Portland," Laxdal added. "They're going to be loud and they're going to be crazy. We've got to corral our enthusiasm a little bit and focus on playing our game." -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow @ryandittrick