LONDON, ON - The Edmonton Oil Kings are in familiar territory tonight as they take on the Val d'Or Foreurs with an opportunity to advance to Sunday's Memorial Cup Final against Guelph with a win.
"It's an elimination game. And like both teams, we started preparing yesterday. It makes it interesting for both teams because we played each other on Tuesday night. It's a huge game. They know us pretty well, we know them pretty well and I think it will be a great game," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal this morning.
Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart talked about the team's ability to draw on past experiences, such as Game 7 in the WHL Final against Portland.
"It happened in Portland, Game 6 (we lost in overtime) and then came back to win Game 7 the next night. I think just the whole year, not just that series, we came back really strong. We've always had a good response to adversity and we can expect the same tonight," Reinhart remarked.
Curtis Lazar said the playoff feel isn't there but the ability to draw on their experience will still help.
"The intensity is there, but it's nothing like the playoffs. We have experience playing in front of large crowds at Rexall and Portland but it's a one shot opportunity. You have to capitalize on it," said Lazar, adding that Val d'Or has some experience in big games as well.
"Our Game 7 experience is going is really going to help us out but in saying that, they have a couple of Game 7 experiences too. It's going to be a really interesting storyline to follow because both teams know how to deal with the pressure and the urgency so it's going to be really cool to see how it plays out."
Val d'Or's experience comes with a 4-3 Game 7 win over Baie Comeau in the QMJHL Final and a 3-2 win over Halifax in the previous round. Both wins came on the road and also came after winning Game 6 to force the deciding game.
Laxdal was asked how the two teams compare when you look at the lineups.
"You've got some great match-ups in this game. You look at the tenders, you look at the back-ends, the top nine or top 12 forwards. It makes for a great game tonight," he said, adding that he hopes to match Reinhart up with Val d'Or sniper Anthony Mantha.
"He knows the job that he's got to do and I'm sure that Mantha knows he's going to see Reinhart quite a bit tonight but they've got last change so I'm sure Mario (Durocher, Val d'Or head coach) will be working that change as much as he can."
Mantha has 82 goals in 84 games this season when regular season, playoffs and Memorial Cup are all factored in. Reinhart and Mantha were teammates at the World Juniors for Canada so both know each other well.
"Everyone in that tournament became close with one another. I can't really say I know all his secrets, he's a pretty crafty guy. He's a big, powerful forward and has skill and speed. He's hard to contain. I'm just going to try and keep him to the outside and take away space," Reinhart said, adding that he's not sure how much he'll be able to see of Mantha given that the Foreurs have last change by virtue of being second in the round robin.
"They get last change so we'll have to see how that goes but I think that's what the match-up is going to look like. But whether I'm out there or a different line, we've got confidence in all our D-men."
Laxdal said that even if Associate Coach Steve Hamilton, who controls defence match-ups, is not able to get Reinhart out there for whatever reason, he has confidence his team will be able to respond to the junior star's scoring prowess.
"We've got some other guys who can step up. For us, we need our top six players to be our best players tonight and obviously Tristan Jarry's got to have an outstanding game," he said. "If we don't get that match-up, Dysin Mayo and Cody Corbett have done a great job all year. And we have three lines that can play the Mantha line."
Laxdal added that Val d'Or is more than just a one-man team.
"If you deal with the Mantha line, you've got the young kids coming back. The (Anthony) Richards, and those kids can score."
SCORING CHANCES, NOT SHOTS
Laxdal was asked if he felt his team had confidence knowing they had outplayed and outshot Val d'Or on Tuesday. Laxdal played down that comment.
"If any team has confidence, it's probably Val d'Or because they beat us in overtime. And that's been their M.O. all season. Bibeau's been outstanding for them. They hang around in a game and then they find a way to win," he said.
"We had a lot of shots but we didn't generate a ton of Grade A scoring chances so it's something to try to adjust to tonight."
Laxdal added that the QMJHL netminder Antoine Bibeau has been lights out when his workload is heavy.
"Someone said an interesting stat the other day, when Bibeau stops over 50 shots they haven't lost a game. So when I was looking at the clock going into (double) overtime, we saw that 50-shot mark and I went 'ooh'.
"It's not about the shot count, it's the Grade A scoring chances we have to do a better job on. And it's shot selection. We've got a game plan in mind here so hopefully we adhere to that tonight." - Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
OIL KINGS (67-26-2-1) vs. FOREURS (64-29-1-1)
Last 10: Edmonton 5-5; Val d'Or 6-4
Season series: This is the second meeting in this tournament between these two clubs. On Tuesday, the Oil Kings raced out to a 2-0 lead but Val d'Or chipped away at that lead and eventually tied the game.
Edmonton took a 3-2 lead in the third period but a late goal by Val d'Or forced overtime. Then, in double overtime, the Foreurs put an end to the sixth-longest game in Memorial Cup history on a goal by Anthony Richard.
Big story: A berth in Sunday's Memorial Cup Final against the Guelph Storm is on the line tonight.
Oil Kings: The Oil Kings felt like they should have defeated Val d'Or on Tuesday and are relishing the chance to get another crack at them tonight.
"That motivates everyone. We let them off the hook," Curtis Lazar began. "We're not going to make the same mistake twice. They're a good hockey club, in saying that. They played a pretty good game. We'll be ready."
Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal felt it was bounces more than anything which cost his team the win on Tuesday.
"It's a game of bounces. They got some bounces last night on their last three goals and that's what Val d'Or does. They do a great job hanging around, their goaltender keeps them in it and when they get a chance they jump on it. I think we deserved a better fate even though our second period wasn't great last night, it wasn't great for Val d'Or either.
Foreurs: Despite not playing all that well in any of the three round-robin games, Val d'Or finished with the second-best record and as a result will earn the distinction of being the home team tonight.
"It's huge for us because we played two series in seven games in the Q and we need some rest," said Richard, after scoring the double-OT winner to defeat the Oil Kings on Tuesday. "That two days off is huge for us."
It's no secret that Val d'Or depends heavily on the play of goaltender Antoine Bibeau. He has faced 50 or more shots in both of his team's wins.
"Antoine is just awesome," Foreurs captain Samuel Henley said. "He keeps us in the game every time. He keeps everyone calm in the room. He's such a good goalie, a good teammate and a good player. We probably wouldn't have won the game without him."
Who's hot: Edmonton has five players tied for the team lead in scoring at this tournament with three points. With one goal and two assists: forwards Edgars Kulda, Henrik Samuelsson and Curtis Lazar plus defenceman Ashton Sautner. Defenceman Cody Corbett also has three assists. Val d'Or's Anthony Mantha has a goal and two assists for three points. He is the only Val d'Or player with three points. No Val d'Or player has more than one goal. Goaltender Antoine Bibeau has a .934 save percentage.
Injury report: Val d'Or defenceman Guillaume Gelinas missed Tuesday's game after being kneed on Monday by Guelph's Chadd Baumann. Gelinas tried to skate in the pre-game warm-up on Tuesday but it did not feel great. He is questionable for tonight's game but he did say on Thursday that he will play.