by John McGourty
If it's true, as reported, that the Edmonton Oilers lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, 5-4, to the Carolina Hurricanes after leading, 3-0, and in the process lost to injury the only goalie, Dwayne Roloson, to play for them in the playoffs, you couldn't tell from the words and expressions of the players.
"Game On!" said defenseman Steve Staios. "We're down, 1-0, in the Stanley Cup Final and that's all it is. We have two very capable goaltenders and we feel good. We are a tight team and we have handled adversity all season. We feel bad for 'Roly', but Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen are both professionals who have proven they can do the job."
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said he will wait until tomorrow to make a decision about the starting goalie for Game 2 Wednesday night in Raleigh. He expressed confidence in both Markkanen and Conklin.
"You never win a Stanley Cup without overcoming some adversity along the way, and so far to this point, we haven't had to overcome a lot," MacTavish said. "We haven't faced an elimination game so far, and normally that's not the case. When you get to the Finals you've to overcome some of that.
"This is our test right now. Carolina passed theirs when they lost the first two games in the first round against Montreal and they had to bounce back. Otherwise, they wouldn't be here. So no team wins the Stanley Cup without a certain amount of resiliency, and we have to show some right now."
A reporter challenged MacTavish, recalling that Markkanen was once traded away and then brought back and Conklin was once waived.
"The facts are what they are," MacTavish calmly replied. "The thing that you look to is that both those guys at times have played very well. We had a lot of confidence in them coming into the season by the way that they had played a couple of years ago. Jussi got into a stretch where he played very well. He played a good, long stretch when Ty got hurt, and that always helps a goaltender, to know that he's going to get the next start. Ty is coming off three wins in a row during the end of the regular season. I think his record's good the last four or five games, so he's capable of it.
"They are NHL goaltenders. They have done it on a big stage before. Jussi was a good goalie and the best goalie in the Russian league last year in the lockout. Ty did a terrific job at the World Championships with the U.S. team. So they have done it before. They have that to fall back on, and that's important.
"I mean, the future will be what it is, and it's up to us to play well around them, which we're going to do and feel like we'll get the saves that we need."
Roloson said an MRI taken this morning indicated he has a third-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament, an injury that will heal "soon", but not soon enough for him to return to the Final series.
Roloson was hurt at 14:06 of the third period with the score tied, 4-4. Conklin made three saves and looked good until he went behind his net and mishandled a pass to defenseman Jason Smith. The pass skidded off Smith's stick toward the right front of the net where Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour had an easy tap-in for the winning goal with 32 seconds left in the game.
Conklin was asked if wished there had been a different outcome.
"I wish the puck wouldn't have gone in," Conklin said matter-of-factly. "I didn't say anything before the pass to Jason. I was just trying to give him the puck and he was closer than I thought."
All of Roloson's teammates expressed sadness for the fate that befell the goalie that helped them secure a playoff berth after arriving via trade on March 8. Roloson was the standout goalie in a playoff year that has seen outstanding performances from quite a few goalies.
"You'd love to see the guy finish what he started, but that's not the situation," Conklin said. "We'll talk today and he'll give us tips on their shooters and other things."
Craig MacTavish and his staff have a tough decision to make before Game 2.
"It's a big chance for one of us," Markkanen said. "A second chance. I played a lot early in the season and I'll be ready. There aren't a lot of goalies that never get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final.
Goalies aren't like auto parts, stamped out exactly the same by the thousands. Some leave rebounds out front, others excel at diverting shots into the corners. Some are better with the glove than others, some better at handling the puck and making outlet passes to teammates. If the Oilers' players have any thoughts about that, they weren't sharing, insisting they'll play the same in front of either goalie. Those who have observed both goalies over time say Markkanen is the better puckhandler while Conklin gets the body in front of more shots.
MacTavish set the record straight that the Oilers will not alter the way they play, regardless of who is in net.
"Our game plan is going to stay the same," he said. "The last thing you want to do is start standing up in front of the goaltender trying to do his job. We don't need two goaltenders -- you want to make sure that we reinforce the things that we were reinforcing when Roly was playing and that the goaltender gets the good sight lines on the puck; there's not a lot of second- and third-shot opportunities or you take care of deflections and to make sure the goalie sees it, again, is important.
"Then you let the goaltender's natural ability take the game and you just have to make sure that they are seeing the pucks and there's not a lot of rebounds."
"It's the playoffs, so you never know what could happen, who's going to step up," Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward said of the Oilers. "You have to take everything serious, you never know what is going to happen. The biggest mistake you can make is start discounting anything on that team. They've got a lot of character on that team so you know they are going to get tighter in there and lock down on defense."
Conklin won the job during the 2003-04 season, but struggled this season with groin problems out of training camp. He was sent to the minors twice for a total of five games and posted an 8-5-1 NHL record with a 2.80 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. Markkanen suffered a broken collarbone in training camp and was ineffective upon his return. He worked his way back to form and posted a 15-12-6 record with a 3.12 GAA and .880 save percentage. The Oilers also recalled goalie Mike Morrison from the ECHL last fall and he played well for awhile, but was traded to the Ottawa Senators.
If another Oilers goalie gets injured, Jeff Deslauriers, a second-round pick, 31st overall, in the 2002 Entry Draft, would be the backup. Deslauriers has never played in the NHL. He split the season between the AHL and ECHL.