|Photo by Brad Watson / Calgary Hitmen
- Rather than using it as an excuse, the Edmonton Oil Kings are rallying around the loss of their captain, Griffin Reinhart.
'The Big Cat' was injured in Game 3 of the WHL Eastern Conference Final this past Tuesday and required surgery to repair a torn tendon in his foot. As a result, the 19-year-old will be sidelined for up to six weeks.
Instead of sulking in Reinhart's absence, the Oil Kings banded together and pulled out a 7-3 win Wednesday night at Scotiabank Saddledome, sending the Battle of Alberta back to Edmonton deadlocked at two.
Game 5 goes tonight at Rexall Place (7:00p.m. MT).
"There's no question, he's an important player and it's a big loss," said Oilers prospect Musil, who's been forced into a bigger role alongside veteran Keegan Lowe as a result. "It's not the best situation and to have to go through this at this time of the season is tough, but the great thing about our team is that we have a lot of depth. What we did (in Game 4) and what we've got to continue to do tonight is bond together and step up."
The strong play of Musil and Ashton Sautner, in particular, has helped fill the void left by their captain. Both played big minutes in Game 4 and were instrumental in blocking shots, especially late when the score was already out of reach.
There's a little more commitment and intensity on display now than there was in Games 1, 2 and 3.
"It shows that no matter what the score is, we'll always be playing as a team," said Musil. "Blocking shots is a really important part of the game, but especially so in the playoffs because it raises the energy for the whole team.
"On that 5-on-3 in Game 4 when Sauts blocked those two shots by (Alex) Roach, you see all the players on the bench erupting and rallying around that.
"The feeling is almost like scoring a goal, so it's a huge lift."
In addition to his increased responsibility on the defensive side, Sautner has elevated his play offensively as well. The Wolseley, Sask. product was a healthy scratch in Game 1, but since being inserted the very next night, has contributed with a pair of goals in the series.
"He's moved up into our Top 4 -- it's amazing," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal, singing the praises of his young defenceman. "He went from not even playing to playing in the Top 4. That's where you have to have the depth and that's when these players have to believe and buy in to their ability as hockey players.
"(Sautner) scored a great goal the other night and that's the way we have to attack. It's good to have him on the back end because he's an offensive defenceman and with Griff going down, we seemed not to miss a beat."
"We have an extremely deep D core," added Musil. "I think the key is having everyone step up and we'll play solid as a group. Sure, I have to play a little bit more and take on a bigger role, but the rest of us do, too. We don't think too much about it because we all believe in ourselves and what we can accomplish together."
Speaking of depth...
Fellow defenceman Cody Corbett suffered a knee injury in Game 1, resulting in a two-game suspension to Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen. Corbett's status is listed as is questionable for Game 5.
In the meantime, Dysin Mayo and Stephen Shmoorkoff have seized the opportunity.
"We've had a couple guys step up and it's really nice to see," said forward Stephane Legault, who's running at more than a point-per-game pace in the post-season.
"Just look at all the guys who have come in and exceeded expectations. Sautsy, Dysin and Shmerks have all stepped up and have played big minutes for us. When a guy like Griff goes down, the onus is on everyone to elevate their game pick up the slack.
"It's not easy, but we have a team built for that challenge. It really felt like everyone pulled together and (Game 4) was one of the best team efforts of the season."
Heading into Game 5 Friday at Rexall Place, the Oil Kings need to come up with another ‘best effort' in order to continue the momentum and gain a 3-2 series lead on the Hitmen.
"We were here last year and we deserve to be here right now," said Legault, drawing on last season's WHL Final when the Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks were tied 2-2. "We'd earned the right to be here and we're defending our title. We should have a little swagger in our game; not cockiness, but we should be confident in ourselves because we're capable of being here and playing in those big games.
"I'm sure both teams will come out really strong and be at their best tonight. Games don't get any more pivotal than that, in Game 5. Whichever team is most disciplined and plays the full 60 minutes will come out on top."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick