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Oil Kings stun Winterhawks in series opener

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Bryan Heim/Portland Winterhawks

- Home ice advantage now belongs to the 'underdog' Edmonton Oil Kings.

Henrik Samuelsson scored a pair and Stephane Legault led the way with three assists as the Oil Kings stunned the Portland Winterhawks 4-1 Friday night at the Rose Garden.

Edmonton now leads the Western Hockey League Championship Series 1-0. Game 2 goes Saturday night at 8:00p.m. MT back at the Rose Garden.

"It was good to (win) the first game here. That was our goal," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "We have to be ready to go tomorrow night because they're going to come harder.

Thanks in large part to Laurent Brossoit (who made 35 saves on the night), the Oil Kings, somehow, led 1-0 after one period of play.

The 19-year-old MVP made 16 saves, many of the brilliant variety as the Winterhawks controlled the play and poured it on all period long.

But after surviving an early onslaught and capitalizing on their small window of opportunity, the Oil Kings grabbed a 1-0 lead at 2:03. Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk burst down the wing and cut to the net while Presten Kopeck and Paul Bittner stood around and watched. Jumping on the rebound at the lip of the crease, Dylan Wruck backhanded a shot up under the bar on Mac Carruth to make it a 1-0 game early on.

"They came out with a lot of energy and caught us on our heels a little bit," said Laxdal. "We weathered the storm. We bent but we didn't break. (Brossoit) was outstanding early on and that goal was huge for us. It's hard to sustain a physical game like that, but we did after surviving the early push."

Trailing 1-0 and pressing for the equalizer, the Winterhawks nearly brought the game back on even terms after an ill-advised pinch by Cody Corbett sprung Brendan Leipsic, Nicolas Petan and Ty Rattie back the other way on a 3-on-1.

As the big line passed around the sprawling defensive effort of Ashton Sautner, Petan redirected the puck past Brossoit. Video review was required, but it ruled that the puck was kicked into the net.

"That line is the best line in Canada," said Laxdal. "It's tough to contain them but we have to do it by committee."

Portland kept pressing.

With the Oil Kings on the power-play late in the period, a similar Corbett blunder led to a Winterhawks breakaway. Once again, Brossoit came up with a massive save off Rattie to preserve the 1-0 lead.

Corbett, Sautner and 16-year-old Dysin Mayo all had their share of misadventures in the early going, but the intermission proved to be a godsend.

"We didn't really come out playing very good," said Legault, who now sits second in team scoring with 22 points in 17 games so far this post-season. "We were standing around and got caught up in the whole atmosphere of the game.

"LB was huge and if he wasn't back there for us, we might have been down 4- or 5-1."

Settling down in the second, the Oil Kings made it a 2-0 game at 11:17. A lazy clearing attempt by Troy Rutkowski allowed Legault to step up and knock it down at the blue line. Once in possession, Legault dished off to Samuelsson, who swooped into the slot and roofed a shot over Carruth's left shoulder.

"We started to control the play a little bit," said Legault. "I feel like when we got in on the forecheck on their defencemen, we were creating a lot of turnovers and it was leading to offence. We want to keep that going, move our feet really hard and pressure their defencemen to make plays."

"We wanted to settle the guys down a little bit," added Laxdal. "It's an electric time of year and it's hard not to get a little wound up. That crowd was electric right off the hop, so our message simple: Just go out and play, relax and stick to the game plan."

The Oil Kings and Winterhawks each registered 11 shots on goal in the second (by night's end, Portland led 36-29). Penalties to Oilers prospects Mitch Moroz and David Musil gave Portland a pair of chances on the power-play, but neither could be converted on.

The Winterhawks made a game of it exactly three minutes into the third when Taylor Leier outmuscled Musil in front and slid home a Chase De Leo rebound. But, once again buoyed by the hard work and persistence of Legault, the Oil Kings replied in a hurry.

After winning a puck battle in the high slot, Legault dished off to Samuelsson near the point. No. 10's seeing-eye wrist shot sailed up and over the glove of Carruth on the Oil Kings' very next shot, making it a 3-1 game 47 seconds after Leier's marker.

"I like to try and keep things simple," said Legault. "I'm a playmaker and those two guys are good scorers.  If Henrik gets a chance (like that) he usually scores on it -- and Curtis is sound in so many areas. We're a good line."

The Oil Kings added an insurance marker at 10:03 as Lazar whacked home a Keegan Lowe rebound past the clueless netminder.

From there, the Oil Kings cruised to the 4-1 win and 1-0 series lead.

"Calgary played us tough and wore us down a little bit," said Laxdal, "but we're going to have to hydrate and get ready to go tomorrow night."

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