Oilers win ugly battle in front of the net
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The harder you work, the luckier you get. That sums up Game 3 for the Edmonton Oilers. They were desperate and they had to win, just like when they were down 2-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the West semifinals.
I thought the play of the game was Jussi Markkanen's stop on Justin Williams' breakaway in the first period. The Oilers were up 1-0 in front of an electric home crowd. If Williams scored there, then everyone in the building says, "Here we go again." The team would look at each other and have some doubt. But Markkanen just got enough of his glove on the puck, made a big save and gave the Oilers more confidence to keep attacking the net.
Markkanen didn't have a lot of work, either, as Edmonton did a great job of killing penalties and keeping Carolina to the outside on the 5-on-5.
Edmonton also seemed quicker on its feet Saturday night. They were skating in hard and attacking the net -- that's how they score goals. Remember how many goals like that we saw against Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim?
The other important key tonight was Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. The two top-liners each scored and showed life again in this series. Horcoff's goal was a talented man's goal. He was in the right spot in the slot to deflect the puck just enough so that it went in between Cam Ward's legs. Smyth's goal was a typical Smyth goal. When he scores, he's scoring in front of the net, on wraparounds or tip-ins. He scores ugly goals. That's why he doesn't go into scoring slumps every often because he always seems to be where the puck is.
So what happens now for Monday's Game 4?
For the Hurricanes, they are obviously disappointed with the loss, but they can't be too down on their overall play. It was a tie game with three minutes left, on the road, in a tough environment. I think Carolina will take that same situation Monday night, as well.
Carolina will look at the game tape and realize it has to get to the net more. On Saturday, Edmonton put their sticks down and did a good job keeping traffic away from Markkanen. Carolina had a few small spurts of passiveness. That's where the Canes have to improve -- be more aggressive in front of the net.
For the Oilers, they played a typical Oiler game Saturday. I think they'll be happy with the way they played Saturday night and they'll have to do the same exact thing Monday. Don't let up. Have guys like Raffi Torres continue to be aggressive in the right ways, keep putting traffic in front of the net and hope for more ugly goals.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.
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