|Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
- The 2013 WHL Championship Series has shifted to Rexall Place in Edmonton.
Hosting the Portland Winterhawks tonight in Game 3, the Edmonton Oil Kings are in the driver's seat after earning a split in Games 1 and 2 over the weekend at the Rose Garden.
"It's a pivotal game in the series and we've got home ice (advantage)," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "We've got to make sure that we're ready to play tonight. We've got to come out with a little bit of a spark, get some energy and be ready to play. Portland took it to us in Game 2 and we have to respond with a little payback tonight."
On the back of an outstanding 35-save performance from MVP goaltender Laurent Brossoit, the Oil Kings stunned the Winterhawks with a 4-1 victory in Game 1. Portland bounced back the very night, however, limiting the visitors to only 16 shots and winning the game 3-0 to even the series.
"We didn't really have our legs in the second game. That hurt us," said Stephane Legault, who was named the WHL Player of the Week after recording four points (all assists) in three games. "They have such mobile defencemen back there that when we dump the puck in, they can take it and skate it right out.
"In Game 3 here, we need to get in on the forecheck a little harder and make it tough on their defencemen."
Just as they did in the Eastern Conference Championship Series vs. Calgary, penalties on both sides continue to plague the Oil Kings. The Winterhawks have been given 11 separate power-play chances this series and, while only one goal has come as a result, the shift in momentum has been obvious.
And it doesn't help when Keegan Lowe and Oilers prospect David Musil, a pairing already seeing the bulk of the workload, are killing penalties all night.
"They're a good team," said Musil. "It's hard on your body, but it's the playoffs and both teams have had the same amount of rest, so you've got to reenergize before the next game as best you can."
"But our main focus heading into tonight is to stay out of the box."
"We've got to stay out of the box," echoed Laxdal. "The best thing we could do is play this team 5-on-5 and try to draw some penalties the other way to get out power-play out on the ice. And when we get those power-plays, we have to score."
That hasn't come easy. The Oil Kings have failed to score on 24 straight power-plays and have given up a litany of quality shorthanded scoring chances in the process.
"We're not in the business of giving breakaways on the power-play," said Laxdal. "We have to do better tonight."
With home ice in tow, the Oil Kings are hoping their success at Rexall Place continues tonight. The club took three of four home meetings with the Winterhawks last spring, with the lone loss coming in Game 2 of the 2012 Championship Series.
Part of it could be due to the incredible fan support in the City of Champions. The Oil Kings have had great crowds all year, but it's been taken to another level so far in the post-season. In Game 5 against the Hitmen, the Oil Kings recorded the largest crowd of the WHL playoffs with 11,088.
"The players feed off it," said Laxdal. "It was electric (in the Rose Garden) the other night and I'm sure they fed off it. Our fans have been outstanding all year. Our kids believe in our fans and really respond to them. They're the seventh man on the ice. They energize our kids and the team has done well in putting in good performances on home ice these past two years."
Added Legault: "We're happy to have home ice now and we have to take advantage of it."
Laurent Brossoit (13-2-3 record, 1.62 goals-against average and .942 save percentage) will get the start in goal for Edmonton, while Mac Carruth (13-4-0, 1.67 goals-against average and .932 save percentage) will get the nod for Portland.
Puck drop is at 7:00p.m.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick