- Scott Burnside, NHL
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EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers better hope that was a last spasm of life from a desperate Anaheim team and not a reflection of an Oiler team that's run out of gas or worse, the roosters finally coming home to roost. Or Ducks, as it were.
No matter how you cut it, Thursday's 6-3 loss was disheartening for an Edmonton team that had won seven playoff games in a row and was looking to secure its first berth in a Stanley Cup final for the first time in 16 years.
Disheartening in the way the Oilers started, embarrassed by a 25-shot, first-period barrage that yielded a 3-0 Ducks' lead. Disheartening in the way the Oilers were able to pull close, closing at one point to 4-3 in a wild second period, but unable to close out a series for the first time this spring when given the opportunity to do so.
"We got a lesson. It was expensive. They're obviously a confident team leaving here," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said.
Now the question is whether this is a one-time pratfall that even the best playoff teams must endure, or symptomatic of something deeper -- like the Ducks finally being rewarded for outplaying the Oilers in every game.
Certainly this series was not as lopsided as the Oilers' 3-0 lead would have indicated heading into Game 4. The Oilers had taken the first two games in Anaheim by identical 3-1 scores, games that were essentially one-goal affairs until late empty-netters on both occasions.
Then after getting down 4-1 in Game 3, the Ducks roared back and nearly tied the game in the waning seconds.
"We were down 3-0 and hadn't played that poorly," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
The fact the team has scored nine times in the last two games (not counting the empty-netter that ended Thursday's game), "that in itself is a hurdle we've overcome," Carlyle said.
Six times this spring a team has jumped to a 3-0 series lead. Four times, including Thursday, the team facing elimination has won the fifth game. But no team in that situation has managed to extend a series beyond a fifth game. The Ducks will try and break that streak Saturday.
"We'd like to be part of that change," Carlyle said. "We're going to try and bottle some of the energy we were able to display and make some adjustments. I think they're going to play their best game of the series on Saturday. We know that. We feel that we have the ability to play to another level, too."
Carlyle rolled the dice for Game 4, making a goaltending change for the third time in this playoff year. The first switch took place when Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who was injured to start the playoffs, was healthy enough to play and replaced rookie Ilya Bryzgalov early in the Calgary series. Carlyle then lifted Giguere after Game 5 of that series and Bryzgalov was sensational leading the Ducks to a come-from-behind series victory over Calgary and a sweep of Colorado. But after Bryzgalov wobbled a bit in Game 3, Carlyle went back to Giguere on Thursday night.
It paid off although Carlyle could just as well have started new Colorado GM Francois Giguere for all the work J.S. Giguere faced. In fact, given the uncertainty with which Giguere greeted each of the 23 Edmonton shots he faced, Francois Giguere might well have fared even better.
"Obviously it's not the best situation when you haven't played in a month," Giguere said.
"He knows I want to play. I wanted to play badly, but at the same time I didn't want bad things to happen to our team," Giguere said. "I was a little bit nervous, I won't lie. I didn't want to let my teammates down."
Regardless of any nervousness, it would be a monstrous surprise if Carlyle didn't go back to Giguere for Game 5 on Saturday in Anaheim.
Only two teams in the history of the NHL have ever rebounded from 3-0 series deficits, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. That's why the Ducks were cautious to keep Thursday's win in perspective.
"If you think ahead you're not thinking about what your job is," said Anaheim defenseman Joe DiPenta. "That was the key tonight. And I think that's going to be the key the rest of the series."
The Ducks, as they have throughout the series, dominated play in the early going. Only on this night they were rewarded, scoring first for the first time in the series and finishing with a 3-0 first-period lead after out-shooting Edmonton 25-3. The 25 shots marked the second-most in one period in NHL playoff history.
There was a litany of mental errors on the Oiler side of the puck as they simply couldn't match the Ducks' intensity. It was this lack of intensity that led to a rash of Oiler penalties that saw the Ducks enjoyed four 5-on-3s throughout the game. They scored on one such occasion.
When the Oilers did have a chance to get back in the game they couldn't capitalize.
Early in the second period with the Oilers enjoying a potentially restorative 5-on-3, Ales Hemsky took a hooking penalty in the Ducks zone.
The Oilers did manage to score on a 5-on-3 shortly afterward, but squandered a 48-second two-man advantage in the third.
"Tonight they had to play catch-up," said former Oiler Todd Marchant, who was a pest around the Oiler net all evening and chipped in three assists.
"No pun intended on the catch-up," added Marchant referring to teammate Teemu Selanne's now-famous Ketchup Theory of playoff success.
Selanne was asked if Game 4 was an example of the theory in action.
"Yeah. Exactly. Sometimes you try and get the ketchup out of the bottle, it doesn't come. When it comes, it really comes. Obviously as a goal-scorer I know how it works. Thursday night, we wanted to win some battles and get some goals. It just gave us another opportunity to go further but it was a good step forward," said Selanne, who had one assist.
Prior to Thursday's game, MacTavish was expounding on his own theory on how the Oilers had managed to enjoy such prolonged playoff success after an uneven regular season.
"I have a philosophy about coaching that there's a certain amount of pain and suffering that every coach has to endure through an NHL year, and we'd maxed out on ours after that St. Louis game [a 2-1 loss to the lowly Blues on April 9], and good things had to be around the corner," MacTavish said. "And conversely coaches that went through the whole regular season this year and never lost a night of sleep get all their pain and suffering in one playoff round. There's always the exception that proves the rule, but this is a philosophy I've been developing for a number of years."
MacTavish was half-kidding, but in this moment, it's ketchup over pain and suffering. Saturday, those theories will be put to the test even further.
Game note: Michael Peca's six-game point-scoring streak came to an end with the Game 4 loss.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
The Ducks were finally rewarded for outplaying the Oilers in every game of the series, but Scott Burnside wonders if it's too little too late.