Oilers return to practice with the Cup on their minds
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Ask Edmonton Oilers forward Mike Peca what it was like to lose the Stanley Cup to the Dallas Stars on a disputed goal in Game 6 of the 1999 finals and his smile quickly evaporates from his face.
His teeth grind and his eyes narrow, his strong jaw hardens.
Seven years later, the pain of Brett Hull's disputed goal in triple overtime still feels fresh.
"The run was great," Peca said Tuesday as he took off his shoulder pads in the Oilers dressing room. "Playing in the finals was great. Losing was devastating, especially based on the goal that we lost on.
"It leaves you with the emptiest of feelings. You grow up your whole life wanting to win a Stanley Cup and to get that close and have it ripped away, it's dealing with the ultimate what if. That's something that's really driving me right now and that I'm helping other guys understand that empty feeling. To come all that way and lose, it's a great big waste of time."
After taking a couple days off to recover from Saturday's series-ending win over Anaheim in the Western Conference finals, Peca and the rest of the Oilers returned to the rink Tuesday to begin preparing for the Stanley Cup finals.
The team is making its first appearance in the championship round since 1990, when the Oilers won their fifth title in seven years. Only Peca, goalie Dwayne Roloson and forward Radek Dvorak have played in the finals.
Peca had one point in the finals with Buffalo in 1999, when Hull scored the winning goal while his skate was in the crease -- a violation at the time that went unwhistled. Roloson was his teammate and served as the Sabres' backup goalie.
That's not to say the roster is missing players with big-game experience. Top defenseman Chris Pronger has logged more than 100 games in the postseason and winger Ryan Smyth has played in the world championships and the Olympics.
Smyth, an 11-year veteran was drafted by the Oilers when the team struggled during the 1990s. The team's rich, winning tradition is evident in the Stanley Cup banners that hang from the rafters and commemorate the glory years when Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier made Edmonton a championship city.
"When you're singing the anthems and you see these banners, it's just amazing," he said. "It's just a great feeling. And now to be a part of what they went through is phenomenal."
Head coach Craig MacTavish, a multiple Stanley Cup-winner as a player, said his team has looked focused in defeating the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks.
"It's a long way to come not to continue the diligence the team has exhibited to this point," he said. "I don't anticipate that being a problem -- focus or effort or getting sidetracked on external things at this time of year."
Still, it can look a little different when you're playing in a series where the Stanley Cup logo is painted on the ice and the trophy is stitched on your jersey. Suddenly, everybody is asking for tickets, too.
"Guys are going to have to get that stuff in order and just focus on the hockey part of it," forward Todd Harvey said. "We're here to win and we need all our attention focused on the task at hand."
The Eastern Conference champion will be determined Thursday night when Carolina hosts Buffalo. The Sabres forced a decisive Game 7 by earning a 2-1 victory in overtime at home on Tuesday night.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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