Well, as I said in my last installment, I had picked against the Oilers in the first three rounds of the playoffs. I said that if I had to make a pick, I would go with the Oilers in six games over Carolina in the finals. Now that Edmonton is down two games to none, especially in light of what happened in game one, it's going to take a monumental comeback for the Oilers to win their first Cup in sixteen years.
Game one was one of the craziest Stanley Cup games that I have ever covered. Edmonton built a 3-0 lead well into the second period. The 3 goals included a successful penalty shot by defenseman Chris Pronger, the first successful penalty shot in Stanley Cup Finals history. The 'Canes stormed back to take a 4-3 lead in the third before Edmonton's power play produced the tying goal. It looked like we were headed for overtime when a collision between Carolina's Andrew Ladd and Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson caused a knee injury that knocked Roloson out for the rest of the series. Backup goalie Ty Conklin faced only 3 shots in the final six minutes of regulation, but a poor exchange between Conklin and defenseman Jason Smith led to an easy tap in goal for Rod Brind'Amour with only 33 seconds left in regulation.
The loss of Roloson changes everything in this series. I had said that Carolina rookie goalie Cam Ward needed to match the veteran Roloson in terms of big saves. Although Ward yielded four goals in game one, he may have been the best player on the ice. He made several highlight reel type saves. It could have been 3 or 4 to nothing by the end of the first period. Ward then followed that performance with a shutout in game two, the first by a rookie in the finals since Patrick Roy with Montreal back in 1986.
The Oilers went with Jussi Markkanen in goal rather than Conklin. Markkanen was OK, but Ward was much better at the other end. It appears that Oiler coach Craig MacTavish will stay with Markkanen the rest of the way.
The atmosphere in Rexall Place will be a much needed boost for the Oilers and a test for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward is a native of nearby Sherwood Park and he has 23 family members including his fiance' coming to the game. He will need to keep his composure against an Oiler team that is averaging 3.6 goals per game at home with a 6-2 record.
The trip to Edmonton from Raleigh was much easier on the NHL's charter flight that was made available to members of the media. It was an Air Canada 767 that made the trip in about 4 hours and 15 minutes. I spoke with a member of the Raleigh media who flew commercial yesterday through Chicago (there are no direct commercial flights from Raleigh to Edmonton). His flight from Chicago to Edmonton was cancelled and he had to stay overnight in Chicago. After a short night, he was put on a flight from Chicago to Denver before finally getting to Edmonton in time to see the end of the Hurricanes practice. He also told me that Carolina GM Jim Rutherford had a kidney stone attack on the team's charter flight on Thursday. The plane landed in Chicago where Rutherford spent the night for treatment. Rutherford was well enough to make the trip to Edmonton on Friday.
Other tidbits: Carolina's Aaron Ward played in Germany during the lockout for a team called ERC Ingolstadt...they have had a "Hockey Night" in the town everytime one of the NHL players who played on their team is on TV during the playoffs...the Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner also played on that team and Aaron told me the fans weren't too sure whom to root for during the New Jersey-Carolina series...chances are the fans in Ingolstadt are watching the NHL International broadcast that I am working!...Ward says the hockey fans in Germany are crazy, much like the soccer crowds...I recieved some good news today that NBC Sports has picked up the option on my contract for next year's NHL coverage...I'll be back after game 4.