Game 2 matchup: Canes defenders vs. Oilers forwards
We already know about the Oilers' goaltending dilemma, but what else should you be on the lookout for in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals?
Something enabled Edmonton to take a 3-0 lead early in Game 1. That was its ability to penetrate Carolina's blue line. Will the Oilers be able to repeat that plan? It's our matchup to watch for Game 2.
To be fair, Glen Wesley (pictured) and Mike Commodore were both relatively solid. And Wesley's gutsy play during a first-period penalty kill, during which he blocked two Jaroslav Spacek slap shots in a matter of seconds only to be helped from the ice and return later in the game, was inspiring. But all in all, it was a ghastly night for a defensive corps many people believe could be the chink in the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup armor.
"You know what? We need more of that, honestly," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said of Wesley's play. "That's guts right there. We could have used more of that."
Frank Kaberle looked stricken and mishandled a number of passes along the offensive blue line. Aaron Ward committed a giveaway that led to the first Edmonton goal and then had one deflect off his body to make it 3-0.
Bret Hedican looked tentative and was whistled twice for minor penalties.
Of the seven minor penalties assessed the Hurricanes in the first game, five were taken by defensemen.
In the Hurricanes dressing room, there was complete agreement that they need to be a whole lot better.
To achieve that, all of the blue-liners must be at least half a step quicker in Game 2.
They must get to pucks earlier and make better, quicker passes from deep in their own end. Half of the blue-line corps did not skate Tuesday, including Wesley, who is still expected to play Wednesday night, so fatigue shouldn't be an issue.
Whether it was Fernando Pisani or Shawn Horcoff (pictured) or Raffi Torres, the Oilers' forward contingent was at the top of its game for the first 40 minutes of Game 1, during which they built a 3-0 lead.
Replicating that style in Game 2 is crucial to the Oilers' chances of evening the series. With either Jussi Markkanen or Ty Conklin making his first NHL playoff start in place of the injured Dwayne Roloson in Game 2, the more time Edmonton spends in the Carolina zone, the happier the Oilers will be.
"That's our style of play. That's what we do," said Horcoff, who was robbed twice by sensational Cam Ward saves in Game 1.
Every time the puck goes into the Carolina zone, "they need to know they're going to have their face against the boards."
In some ways, it's a battle of wills for the Oilers forwards, who got into a game of "run 'n' gun" with Carolina late in the going that cost them the opener.
The interesting question is whether the underlying desire to be strong defensively will prevent the Oilers from fully engaging in that style. In short, do they have enough confidence in their goaltending to play their game or will they subconsciously fall back, playing into the Canes' game plan?
"We don't have to manufacture confidence. We have confidence," Horcoff said.
Maintaining a rugged forecheck will be even more crucial if the Oilers are able to once again take the lead.
"Our game plan is going to stay the same," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "The last thing you want to do is start standing up in front of the goaltender trying to do his job. We don't need two goaltenders."
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