Edmonton, AB - The Edmonton Oil Kings hadn't lost at home since Feb. 22 -- a 72-day span in which 24 wins were recorded. But all good things must come to an end, and it did Friday night as the Portland Winterhawks (who were without leading scorer Ty Rattie) dropped the home side by a 5-1 score.
"We weren't physical enough, I don't think we won enough battles," deadpanned Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "There were a lot of guys in the minuses tonight and we only took four hits to make a play. That's not enough to compete, and that's something these kids have to understand. But it's only one game today.
"Portland's got home ice now, so we've got to go in and respond on Sunday. (Friday's) game is over with. We're moving on to the next one. Guys are going to make mistakes -- they pressured us into making mistakes with their speed and their battle presence. We've got to be better in all areas of the game. It's that simple."
While the Oil Kings scored early in Game 1, registering the icebreaker 1:25 into Thursday's match, the Winterhawks responded with a similar method in Friday's game. At 2:37, Brad Ross connected with a streaking Brendan Leipsic who scooped a backhander up and over Laurent Brossoit's sprawling stop attempt.
Brossoit did his best to keep his squad in it, posting several miraculous saves in the opening period; none better than a 2-on-1 engineered between high-end picks Marcel Noebels and Sven Bartschi, as LB's sliding split denial turned the snipers aside.
He did the same moments later as Bartschi returned back door pass to Ross at the doorstep on what looked to be a sure tap-in, but Brossoit's athleticism helped preserve the minimal disadvantage.
With penalties, squandered power-plays and chippy play on demand, the opening period ended with the visitors leading 1-0, and with a hate-on brewing between Keegan Lowe and Joe Morrow that lasted all night.
It was one incident of many that ultimately got the home side off their game.
"Our guys got caught up in it between the benches and we lost our focus a little bit," Laxdal said. "You've got to give [Portland] credit, they played well. I'm not sure if our guys thought it would be easy, but they came to play tonight.
"We saw the Portland Winterhawks."
"I think everybody was trying to get under everybody's skin," said captain Mark Pysyk. "There were some chirps here and there. We were worried too much about that instead of playing hockey. We need to get away from that."
"I think it's a part of everyone's game," added Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk. "With our line especially (along with Klarc Wilson and Mitch Moroz), we've got to bring that element all the time. Heading into Sunday we need to control our emotions a little bit more, but the chirping will always be a part of our game -- especially in this series."
The Winterhawks extended their lead to 2-0 at 9:20 of the second as Leipsic cashed another, pouncing on an ill-advised up-the-middle pass attempt by Ashton Sautner. 1:08 later and with his club on a man-advantage, Troy Rutkowski delivered a cross-crease dish to Bartschi, who one-timed it past Brossoit to make it a 3-0 game.
While Edmonton needed a spark, it appeared to come with 6:11 to play. Ewanyk whacked at a loose puck along the goal line, popping it into the net and bringing the Oil Kings back in it -- or so it seemed.
No one in the building expected a goal, as the real-time look made it seem as though the puck crossed underneath the cage. But upon video review, clearly seen by all 10,000-plus in attendance at Rexall Place, it should have been counted.
But it wasn't. A short peek upstairs returned bad news, as the 3-0 score remained.
"Ugh. No comment," Laxdal responded when asked about it.
"It was a scramble," Ewanyk recalled. "I didn't see too much, but when I saw it up top (scoreboard video), I thought it hit his pad and went in. We were pressing and it would have been nice to get that one. We came out strong in the third, but it wasn't enough."
And with 1:22 on the clock, Portland put the game away by extending to a 4-0 advantage, capitalizing on the erroneous call made minutes earlier. Oilers prospect Martin Gernat made a poor read, stepping up in the neutral zone and allowing Taylor Peters to scoot in alone and bury a backhand shot past an outstretched Brossoit on his team's 21st shot.
Another Oilers prospect, Kristians Pelss, broke Mac Carruth's shutout bid 4:44 into the third, but it was as close as the Oil Kings got. Bartschi added an empty-netter seal a 5-1 Winterhawks win.-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com -
Game 3 goes on Sunday night in Portland. Puck drop is at 7:00pm.