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Oilers optimistic

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
Jussi Markkanen and the Oilers are confident they can still win the series. (Getty Images)

by John McGourty

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers were looking forward, not back, in the wake of Monday's 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final that put them down, 3-1, in the series with Game 5 Wednesday in Raleigh.

Discouraged, yes, but determined and not done, as well.

"I will continue to maintain that we're a team that's not getting dominated," insisted Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "I feel like we haven't -- I know we haven't played our best game in the series, so I guess that's a positive, that we can execute at a higher level and we're going to need to."

"We'll go play the game and not worry about what's going on around us," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We have to stay focused and prepared for each shift and not let outside distractions or refereeing or crowds, or whatever, bother us out there."

The Oilers didn't get many good scoring opportunities after Mark Recchi put Carolina ahead with 4:04 in the second period. Rem Murray gave Edmonton its best chance with 3:20 remaining in the game while killing Jason Smith's hooking penalty. Murray fired a pass to defenseman Steve Staios, who had broken in behind the Carolina defense. Staios redirected the pass, but it went wide of the net. It proved to be the Oilers' last scoring opportunity.

"We haven't quit on ourselves all playoffs," Murray said. "We've been down and out in previous series and we've come back. So, our focus is on Game 5. We'll try to win one game and bring them back here."

Staios was heartbroken. He tied a career high this season with 28 points, including eight goals, and he's had a goal and three assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It would have been the biggest goal of his career.

"I just jumped off the bench shorthanded while they were changing lines," Staios said. "I got past everybody and Rem made a perfect pass. I just couldn't capitalize on it. It stings, when you get a chance to tie the game like that. We just have to go and get that game in Carolina. That's our focus. You know momentum can turn in the playoffs so we just have to win that one game."

The Oilers lost Game 1, 5-4, after leading, 3-0, and were blanked, 5-0, in Game 2 in Raleigh. It was a different story here in Edmonton. They were on different sides of a pair of 2-1 games. They feel if the play this way in Carolina Wednesday, the determining factor could be a lucky bounce, as it was tonight.

Recchi pressured Jason Smith behind Carolina's net before his goal, forcing a quick pass to Pronger that allowed Cory Stillman to come down the boards and deflect Pronger's outlet attempt high in the air and toward the slot where Eric Staal jumped high in the air, brought down the puck and passed to Recchi, who had moved across the crease to Jussi Markkanen's right side. Recchi beat Markkanen with a dart.

The Oilers also fell victim to one of hockey's oldest commandments: Never let the opponent score within a minute after you score.

Sergei Samsonov opened the scoring at 8:40 of the first period and Rexall Place erupted. Stillman responded at 9:09. 1-1, and that's how it stayed until Recchi's winner.

What hurt most was failing to score on a 5-on-3 in the first period, the fourth-straight game in which Edmonton has failed to score with a two-man advantage.

"I thought we started the game really well, moved the puck well, and then we were the beneficiary of a number of power plays and lost some momentum through those power plays," MacTavish said. "And, then again, we're in the same situation as we were in the first game where we got a five-on-three, a lengthy five-on-three, and you know, I don't know that we had a shot on goal. Might have had one shot on goal on the five-on-three.

"Then we started to get frustrated and the power plays kept coming and we got away from the structure that had made us a pretty formidable power play through the first three series.

Center Jarret Stoll credited Stillman for his hustle in beating Pronger along the boards and said it was typical of the way Carolina played all night.

"They're pressuring us pretty good out there along the wall so we've got to find a way to make quicker passes," Stoll said. "We've got to get open out there. Somebody's got to get open. Some passes are a half a second too late and sometimes you're a half a foot out of position to receive the pass.

"They're doing a great job of taking away our shooting lanes. When we put pressure on them, they look pretty calm and they're killing the play for us. A lot of times we had good pressure and nothing came out of it. We're working hard and getting pucks back to the point. We weren't getting to the net, No. 1, and we weren't getting any rebounds or any tips. It's stuff like that that we have to have. Cam Ward is making those first saves and we have to find a way to beat him from other angles and with point shots. I thought they did a pretty good job of checking and making it hard for us on the offensive side.

The Oilers were rocked in Game 1 when their best player in the playoffs, goalie Dwayne Roloson, suffered a season-ending injury. The hockey world doubted them when backup Markkanen gave up five goals in Game 2. But Markkanen was a big factor in the Game 3 victory and was even better in Game 4. It says he made only 19 saves, but many were brilliant. If the Oilers were to have any cause to doubt themselves, it would be that if Markkanen wasn't as brilliant in Game 4, it could have been worse.

"It's tough to be satisfied when you lose, 2-1," Markkanen said. "I felt good out there. Hopefully, we can get some power-play goals in Carolina and come back here for Game 6. We'll try to learn from our mistakes and move on. We've done that in the past and we've done that throughout the Playoffs. We have to look forward because it's going to be a big game. We'll steal one there and come back here to Edmonton."

What adjustments must the Oilers make to be successful in Game 5?

"Nothing special," Markkanen said. "We have to trust the way we play. I thought we played well enough to win tonight but we didn't capitalize on our chances. We have to do that and make sure we get our power play going. It should be fun."

"Absolutely," Pronger said. "They capitalized on the chances that they needed and we didn't. They were opportunistic on the limited chances that they did get and Jussi made great stops when they were up, 2-1, to keep the game within reach for us. We just weren't able to get it in the back of the net. ... We've got to get more traffic in front and get to the loose pucks. There's rebounds there that we're not getting to. We've got to be more determined in getting to those pucks and bear down on the chances that we do get."
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