Get comfortable, we have a battle on our hands

Updated: May 12, 2006, 1:33 PM ET
By George Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Slumped in his dressing stall, the midnight chime having come and gone, officially 102 minutes and 24 seconds of elapsed playing time after it all began, Shawn Horcoff, without provocation, handed the hero's laurel off to his bloody, battered comrade.

Shawn Horcoff
Harry How/Getty ImagesShawn Horcoff's winning goal in triple overtime has put life back into the Sharks-Oilers series.

"How many stitches?" he asked. Eight. "How many teeth?" Three.

Horcoff nodded softly, then shook his head in admiration.

"Smitty's played that way all year. What more can you say about the guy? To get hurt the way he did and then come back, swing around the net and set up the winning goal ... he's a winner. Gave us such a lift.

"I look down on the ice and say 'Is that a tooth?' And Gator [Jason Smith] says 'Yup. That's a tooth.' So we picked it up."

A used tooth?

"Oh, you can put 'em back in," Horcoff said. "Just get a little wire, and ..."

Thanks, but that's more than enough information.

Ryan Smyth was cracked in the mouth by a clearing attempt from teammate Chris Pronger in the second period. Immediately, he collapsed to the ice. Strawberry jam oozed in a small pool as he clambered back up onto his skates.

"Today is going to suck," said Oilers winger Ethan Moreau, who has been deprived of a few chiclets in his time. "Needles everywhere. Needles in his mouth and his gums and his face. It's no fun watching people pick your teeth up off the ice. But that kind of typifies Smitty as an Oiler. In true Smitty fashion, he comes back and sets up the winning goal."

Hey, it's playoffs, right?

Smyth spent Thursday in a dentist's chair. Everyone else, you'd assume, in a hot bath laced with Epsom salts.

But you had to know the Oilers were feeling less sore, a bit less tired than the San Jose Sharks. That's what winning a game like Wednesday's does for the old recuperative powers.

Just when you're ready to call it a series, suddenly we have an honest-to-goodness battle on our hands.

Sharks coach Ron Wilson is complaining that Oilers netminder Dwayne Roloson's melodramatics are influencing the referees. His counterpart, Craig MacTavish, thought big Georges Laraque's major boarding penalty came more out of reputation than delivery.

The bile is beginning to build.

Most of the talk the day after the Game 3 marathon, though, centered on Smyth.

Edmonton is rallying behind the dramatics of Horcoff's triple-OT heroics and behind the grit of Smyth, the player who -- more than any other -- has come to symbolize this franchise. His blood, his enamel, his pain are theirs.

"That's his trademark," MacTavish said. "The type of place he has in the history of the Oilers. This is just another story for the book."

MacTavish had to think a minute when asked for the worst injury he could recall. "I remember a high schooler, a game back in London [Ontario], a guy got cut and the blood must've shot a foot and a half. He screamed, and it shot two feet. A skate blade [cut him].

"But this was pretty bad."

Any doubt surrounding Smyth's participation in Game 4 at Rexall Place?

"None," Moreau replied, "whatsoever."

Oh, he tips over easier than a poorly made canoe and drives goaltenders batty by parking his IMAX-sized caboose in their line of sight, but the intangibles Smyth brings to the Oilers cause cannot be overestimated.

"Seeing him back out there," said captain Smith, "gave everyone on our team a big lift."

Wilson thinks the canonization of Smyth might be overstating the matter a tad.

"Look, I have a lot of respect for Ryan Smyth, but I don't know of one player in this league who wouldn't have come back after getting cut. What about Jonathan Cheechoo, getting his head rammed into the glass" -- by 250-pound Laraque -- "being hurt and dazed and still playing the rest of a three-overtime game? We had three guys, Cheech, Joe Thornton and Scotty Hannan, lose teeth in one game!

"At this time of year, guys would play with a broken ankle. That's what being a hockey player is about. That's what makes this a special game."

And Wednesday gave us an extra-special game. A knock-down, drag-it-out, heart-palpitating game. If the Oilers could bottle that first period, you could hand them Lord Stanley's rickety old mug right now. It was, in short, total domination.

There hasn't been a fight so one-sided since the Muhammad Ali-Brian London heavyweight title bout at Earls Court in 1966. (When the postman arrived to deliver London's pay packet a couple of days after the three-round mauling, London's disbelieving wife exclaimed: "Oy! You mean they're givin' it to 'im?")

The Sharkies had been overwhelmed and outshot 13-0 before Marcel Goc's tame 40-footer at 15:18 barely troubled a by-then-sound-asleep Roloson. The final tabulation after 20 visceral minutes: 15-2, yet Edmonton led only 1-0. It seemed the Oilers had shot their bolt. Emptied their barrels.

But they still had enough to turn the tables again, after San Jose had forged an undeserved 2-1 lead through 40 minutes. Raffi Torres tied the score with less than seven minutes left, then Horcoff sent the big Drugstore into delirium by shoveling Smyth's pass behind the brilliant Vesa Toskala at 2:24 of the third overtime period.

Of such moments mighty aspirations spring.

"I think the first period and the way we took it to them again in overtime are the defining moments in this series so far, in my estimation," MacTavish said. "I think we showed that we're in this for the long haul.

"I hope they realize it."

Oh, they're starting to get the idea, all right.

George Johnson of the Calgary Herald is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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