A little patience goes a long way for Hurricanes
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Masters of Zen hockey, unflappable, unshakable, the Carolina Hurricanes have withstood the best the frenetic Edmonton Oilers can dish out and stand on the verge of claiming their first Stanley Cup championship.
Emerging with a split in two games in the least hospitable of playoff venues (the rockin', karma-filled Rexall Place) thanks to Monday's 2-1 victory, the Hurricanes take a 3-1 series lead home with a chance to win it all on home ice Wednesday night.
Outhit by the Oilers, 32-19.
Dominated in the faceoff circle, losing 39 of 56 draws.
Still, the patient, skilled Hurricanes trotted out a well-worn playoff script: Don't sweat the small stuff, wait until your opponent flinches, then be just a little better.
Monday was the perfect example.
The Oilers opened the scoring for the third time in this series, this time off a brilliant give-and-go between Sergei Samsonov and Radek Dvorak. But rambunctious Oilers forward Raffi Torres took a penalty 17 seconds later, and just 12 seconds after that, startlingly dangerous Cory Stillman somehow managed to one-time a fluttering Frantisek Kaberle pass past Jussi Markkanen to tie the game.
"Real big," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.
The Hurricanes would not score again until late in the second period. In the interim, they would kill off five straight Edmonton power plays, including a two-man advantage that lasted 1:12.
It marked the third time in this series the Oilers have failed to capitalize with a two-man advantage. In all, the Oilers are a woeful 1-for-25 with the man advantage. Some will suggest this is all that stands between the Oilers and at least a 2-2 tie in this final series.
Actually, Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish did suggest it.
"A couple more power-play goals, we're at least tied," MacTavish said.
But that implies the Oilers' power play exists in a vacuum. It doesn't. It shares space with a Carolina penalty-killing unit that has attacked the Oilers' strength, Chris Pronger's booming shot, and neutralized the single most important element of the series.
"We have been down this road before with our power play, where we start to get frustrated and then you lose your patience on the power play, you take your first opportunity. And when you are on top of your game on the power play, you don't take a mediocre opportunity when you are in your setup," MacTavish said.
The Oilers simply have been unable to keep pace with the Hurricanes on the man advantage (the Canes are 5-for-26) because they can't match the depth of skill and opportunism of their opponent.
Witness the winning goal.
Late in the second period, with the game bearing all the hallmarks of a match that would be decided by one goal, one play, one moment, the Hurricanes delivered the decisive blow.
Take the pebble from my hand, grasshopper. Om.
"I think one of the most important things that this team has done consistently all year is stick with our game," Carolina forward Kevyn Adams said. "I think when you believe in each other and you believe in the system that you play, you can go out there and trust in yourself to play that system. That's where it comes from. I think we try to play the same way whether we're up, down, tied. We try to consistently play the same way. Even though we're up a goal in the third, we want to be going and trying to push the pace."
The third period was typical Canes "hockey in the zone."
They didn't take foolish chances, but neither did they retreat into the kind of passive game that was the undoing of the Oilers in Game 1, when they blew a 3-0 lead. The Hurricanes stayed out of the penalty box in the third and limited the Oilers to five shots.
Was the call marginal? Yes, the night was full of marginal calls. On both sides.
The Canes absorbed such calls the way they absorb everything in front of them, with a deep breath and a step forward.
Edmonton, however, is a team that relies more on adrenaline and energy for its success and, as a result, has a tendency to become frustrated when things go awry.
As if to illustrate exactly how frustration has seeped into the very pores of the Edmonton Oilers team, MacTavish himself began to unravel at the end of his postgame media briefing.
Good-humored and patient, MacTavish bristled when asked whether he was upset Ales Hemsky didn't shoot more.
"You know what I get frustrated with? I get frustrated with the question. I mean, you haven't been here all year. I get frustrated with the question," MacTavish said. "Every Tom, Dick and Harry is telling him how to play the game. The guy is a good player, a good passer, he makes plays."
And MacTavish wasn't done.
Seconds later, a questioner pondered the potential benefit of having Georges Laraque join the Oilers' power-play unit.
"Everybody has got an idea when the power play doesn't go well. Anybody else? I mean, everybody has got an idea," MacTavish snapped. "No, I didn't think of putting Georges on the power play in the slot."
Certainly, the Edmonton coach is entitled to be a little frayed around the edges. He had just lost an emotional game that put his team in a hole from which only one team in the history of the Stanley Cup finals have been able to emerge.
But there is precious little time to repair the fabric, not with the timetable the Hurricanes are determined to impose on this final series.
MacTavish earlier had put forth a theory that suggested the Oilers were like a prizefighter raining down body blows on his opponent. The strategy might not yield a victory in the early rounds, but by the end of the match, it would prove to be the difference.
The Hurricanes understand this theory and want no part of it. They have absorbed the punishment but have quietly moved inside, where they are poised to deliver their own knockout blow long before MacTavish's theory can be put to the test.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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