|Photo by Bryan Heim/Portland Winterhawks
- It was emotional, improbable and downright magical.
The Edmonton Oil Kings live to play another day.
Completing the hat trick, Michael St. Croix scored the spectacular game-winner 7:24 into overtime, lifting the Oil Kings to a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the Western Hockey League Championship Series.
Twenty-year-old Dylan Wruck, who could have been playing his last-ever WHL game, recorded an assist on each goal.
The series now shifts back to Rexall Place in Edmonton for Game 6 (Sunday night at 4:00p.m. MT). The Winterhawks lead the series three games to two.
"There's not much more you can say about that game," exhaled Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "It was an outstanding game by both teams. We were trying to live another day and get it back to Edmonton, but our guys played a gutsy game, especially after giving up a goal 15 seconds in.
"We still have a lot of work to do. It gives us a chance to play another day."
"They really stepped up to the plate tonight," he added about his 19- and 20-year-olds. "We wanted to leave it all on the ice tonight and they did that, getting involved in all three goals. They're a big part of our team. They're the offensive catalyst of our hockey team. They did a lot of good work 5-on-5.
"Credit to these guys. They hung on, they battled and they persevered."
With their performances Friday night at the Rose Garden, Wruck and St. Croix have now combined to record 47 points in 21 games so far this post-season.
"The coaches challenged us to be better," said Wruck, who's collected 19 of them. "The last couple games, I thought we deserved a better fate but tonight the puck went in for us. It was good to come through for the guys tonight. We get to play again on Sunday night and hopefully Rexall will be bumping."
Joey Baker and Brendan Leipsic scored for the Winterhawks, but nothing more could get past Laurent Brossoit, who made 49 saves in the win.
Right off the opening faceoff, Baker raced down the far side, burned Oilers prospect Martin Gernat wide and backhanded a shot past Brossoit 15 seconds into the game.
In what appeared like a victory march, the onslaught continued. As the 10-minute mark approached, the Winterhawks led 9-1 in shots and would have been up by several more if not for the stellar play of Brossoit.
No save was bigger than his robbery of Nick Petan on a 2-on-1 rush with Ty Rattie less than 20 seconds after the icebreaker.
"There was lots of time left to get back in the game, obviously," said Laxdal. "Our guys really hung in there. The crowd was outstanding and there was great energy in the building. After they scored that goal, our game really picked up."
With the sold-out Rose Garden crowd losing their minds (and their voices) in anticipation of a championship, the Oil Kings silenced the 10,947 in attendance with a goal of their own at 10:14.
Outracing Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot to a loose puck in the corner and outmuscling him once there, Dylan Wruck and fellow 20-year-old TJ Foster connected to bring the score back on even terms.
Intended for Michael St. Croix in the slot, Foster's centering pass redirected in off the skate of Petan. (The goal has been erroneously credited to St. Croix, however.)
Tied at one after one, the Winterhawks held a 12-5 advantage in shots.
Late in the second period, a potentially goal-saving hooking penalty was assessed to Keegan Lowe, putting the Oil Kings on the penalty kill for the second time in the game. Some scary moments ensued, but Brossoit continued his exceptional play with a number of remarkable stops to keep the score knotted at one heading into the third.
Amid nerves and rising emotions, the Oil Kings -- incredibly -- took the lead 7:01 into the third. With the puck dumped into the Winterhawks end, Carruth inexplicably raced out of his net to meet the puck deep in the far corner. In pursuit, Wruck beat him there and centered a pass to St. Croix, who neatly deposited the puck into the empty cage as the goaltender frantically scrambled back, but to no avail.
"It was a bizarre play," laughed St. Croix. "Carruth went out there and Wrucker read it perfectly. Luckily I was able to do a little spin-o-rama and to see the puck bounce across the line, it was pretty special.
"Especially at that time in the game, I wasn't expecting that. If he wants to go out and play the puck, that's OK with us."
It appeared as though the game was in hand, but the Winterhawks kept coming. With 5:55 to play, Brendan Leipsic danced his way down the near side and potted a slippery backhand shot past Brossoit to set the score at 2-2.
(Personal note: Never in my life have I heard a building so loud. 10,000+ feels like 25,000 at the Rose Garden.)
"It didn't faze us at all," said Laxdal. "We'd been in a number of those situations throughout the season and in the playoffs. We talked about pushing ahead and in the other overtime games we were involved in, we had some good looks but were due for a win.
"That's what we did."
With the Winterhawks leading 43-26 in shots, the game progressed to sudden-death overtime.
Oilers prospect Travis Ewanyk nearly ended it early in the extra session as he drove wide and cut to the net, but Carruth held the fort and blocked everything Ewanyk had to shoot for.
But the Oil Kings made good soon after anyway. Blazing down the wing, St. Croix sliced into a shooting position and gunned a powerful wrist shot up and over Carruth's right shoulder for the game-winner.
"We were due for a couple goals like that," said St. Croix. "It's still kind of a blur. Looking back when they tied it up and took it to overtime, we stuck together as a group.
"That was our goal, to bring it back to Edmonton. And that's what we've done."
"We have to build off tonight's game and build off this energy," added Laxdal. "We've got to reload, re-focus and prepare for Sunday."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick