by John McGourty
Fernando Pisani may have kept the Oilers alive in the Stanley Cup Final, but there was plenty of praise to go around the lockerrroom after Game 5.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Edmonton Oilers executed their game plan with great effectiveness Wednesday night. As a result, they're headed home for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Earlier Wednesday, Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish reduced the game plan to its most basic element -- take it one step at a time.
"We're not looking any further ahead than trying to get a good first shift in tonight and try and build some momentum," MacTavish said. He also pledged a physical game and promised to "spoil the party" the Carolina Hurricanes were planning should they win the 2006 Stanley Cup, their first-ever, in Game 5.
Fernando Pisani tipped Chris Pronger's shot from the left point past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward 16 seconds into the game and MacTavish looked like a seer. Pisani was the hero of the game when he scored a breakaway, shorthanded goal 3:31 into overtime. It was the first overtime, shorthanded goal in Stanley Cup Final history. It also marked the first overtime, shorthanded goal that staved off elimination for a team in any Playoff round.
The Oilers were shorthanded when defenseman Steve Staios was called for tripping Mark Recchi to the right of Edmonton goalie Jussi Markkanen at 3:03 of overtime.
"It happened so quick," Pisani said. "It was in my pants and I threw it down and I kind of took a quick look and saw that he was kind of over to the blocker's side and just shot it in the top half of the net. ... The pass was coming slow, that's why I kind of just jumped up and Staal's got a long reach too. So, I was kind of wasn't sure, then I just decided to go for it and it worked out well.
"It was probably the biggest goal I have ever scored in my career. I got the puck and I looked up, I saw he was cheating to that side and I just picked the top half of the net to shoot at and was fortunate to go in."
"He's Pie!" Todd Harvey shouted at Pisani in the dressing room after the game. "Quiet, and he's made himself into a good player. I've seen him evolve this year. He's great on the wall, good defensively, and he's got a knack for putting the puck in the net. Put those three things together and you've got a pretty good hockey player."
No one was happier than Staios, who faced a potential lifetime of regret for being in the penalty box had Carolina scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
"Was it only 28 seconds?" Staios said, with a laugh accompanied by a sigh of relief. "It was a difficult situation. You never want to be in that situation. There's no way I'm going to change my game or change my decision making because of it. You have to play with your heart and you play solid. They're going to call penalties. That's the game today. You hope that they're not at the wrong times. We weren't having much success tonight on the penalty kill. I didn't know what to think when I went to the box but, certainly, it was a huge relief."
"Going into overtime, I thought we had a real strong third period," MacTavish said. "You know, one goal, one bad break puts you out, and we really had a sense that we were starting to turn the tide and the momentum in the game and in the series and we needed the goal. I think that is why you saw the reaction that you did from the bench because we know that, with that goal, this puts us right back into it. We have still got a lot of work to do, but there's nobody that wanted to go -- nobody wanted to see that trophy tonight, that's for sure."
There were so many elements that worked out well for Edmonton and they needed three periods-plus to win in a Final that has featured four one-goal games.
Jussi Markkanen continued his strong play in net. Markkanen took over for Dwayne Roloson after the team's hero of the first three rounds was injured in Game 1. He had 21 saves, many of them brilliant. All three goals against came on power plays, two by Eric Staal and another by Ray Whitney, but he caught a break when Whitney hit the post with 7:47 left in regulation. In one of the biggest plays of the night, Markkanen came out of his net to cut down the angle on Kevyn Adams' shot off a 2-on-1 break that followed Chris Pronger breaking his stick on a shot from the Carolina blue line.
The Edmonton players couldn't stop talking about the game Raffi Torres played. The rugged left wing knocked defenseman Aaron Ward out of the game early in the first period with a rubout hit along the boards in the Carolina zone. Later, he and Pronger sandwiched Doug Weight in their zone. Weight went to the dressing room and later returned to his bench but he didn't take another shift. There were no revelations about the extent of Weight's injury and whether he can return to the series, but the impact of the hit could have a major effect on the Final.
"Raffi played awesome," Harvey said. "He was banging. Raffi was like a raging bull out there. Everybody was aware when he was on the ice tonight."
"I don't know what's in Raffi's shoulders, maybe steel, but he made them pay," said Jarret Stoll. "When he hits guys, he hurts guys. He hits clean, he doesn't hit dirty. He puts guys out of the game. Against Detroit, he was a one-man wrecking ball. That sends a message right to our team, right to our bench, that we're ready to go. I don't know what message it sends them. I'm sure it's not good. It's good to have that physical presence. I think everybody feeds off that and it gets us going, physically and mentally."
"That's what we need him to do to get us some momentum," center Shawn Horcoff
said. "Hats off to him tonight. He played hard in the first period and got us a goal."
Forgotten in the excitement of the overtime victory was the heady play Torres made to set up Pisani's first score. Mike Peca carried the puck behind the Carolina goal and attempted a pass to Torres, who was on Cam Ward's left side. Torres snatched a loose puck from Bret Hedican and, instead of shooting, turned and passed back to Pronger at the point.
Stoll was another hero. His name doesn't appear on the score sheet, but his teammates will forever remember that he beat Rod Brind'Amour on the faceoff after Staios' penalty and dumped the puck into the Carolina end. It never emerged. Ethan Moreau pressed Cory Stillman into a bad pass, Pisani stepped in front of Staal and that's all she wrote.
A typical Edmonton victory, no one hero.
"Those are the plays you have to make and those are the little things you have to do to win games, especially in the Playoffs," Stoll said. "We've been better the last three games on faceoffs, on Brind'Amour, particularly. It took us a while to adjust to him. We're getting better on him but as long as we win the big ones, that's all that matters."
Harvey had the biggest grin in the room after the game. He was inserted into the lineup in place of big forward George Laraque and played only 6:16 but it was a banging 6:16 and helped add to Carolina's bruises and fatigue. The Oilers are now 7-1 when Harvey plays in the 2006 Playoffs.
"Ha, I don't know if it had anything to do with me. We played a pretty good game tonight. I think they scored three power-play goals. If we stay out of the box and play 5-on-5, we're a pretty good team. We rolled four lines at them tonight. We were physical in all three zones."
The Edmonton players realize Weight may not return and Aaron Ward may be hurting a lot more tomorrow and in the next few days. Recchi was another target of Torres' pounding. He gave as good as he got but he didn't have much skating room for most of the night and that's a key to Recchi's game.
That's what we were trying to do," Horcoff said. "We feel like we're just starting to get fresh, get our legs. I think that's a product of being off for nine days before the Final started."