- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Cam Ward will be dealing with series-clinching nerves, and Ales Hemsky will be trying to save his team's season. Here's why the pair is our Game 5 Matchup to Watch.
At this stage, it's no longer about playoff neophyte makes good but whether he's Conn Smythe Trophy material. And if the voting were based entirely on the Stanley Cup finals, it would be a no-brainer.
Cam Ward has stopped 107 of 114 shots in the finals, and three of the seven goals were scored in the first half of the first game.
He repeatedly has made the big save that has kept the Hurricanes firmly in control of this series, regardless of the fact the Oilers say they have made life easy for Ward. He has been a revelation for a netminder in his first NHL playoffs.
Throughout the postseason, Ward has answered a series of tests with flying colors: his ability to come in and handle the pressure early in the first round, the ability to respond after being pulled against Buffalo, and -- this past week -- his biggest test, returning home to Edmonton for Games 3 and 4 and playing in an arena he visited regularly as a boy.
Now, he will answer one more question Wednesday night -- can he bring down the curtain?
Even after all the ups and downs and firsts Ward has experienced this spring, knowing the Stanley Cup is in the building is bound to create some new emotion for him to control.
Still, unless the Oilers can consistently create traffic in front of him and generate more shots on goal on the power play, the answer will be clear when they wheel the Stanley Cup out sometime Wednesday evening.
The theory is the Oilers will win only if they can score ugly. Ryan Smyth produced such a work of "art" to secure the Oilers' only victory of the series, in Game 3, but Sergei Samsonov and Radek Dvorak combined in Game 4 to score one of the prettiest goals of the series.
The Oilers will need to serve up a blend of skill and grit on their offensive plate if they're going to claw their way back into the Cup finals.
Which brings us to Edmonton winger Ales Hemsky.
Outside Eric Staal, who represents a different kind of talent altogether, Hemsky might have the biggest toolbox in the series. He regularly has made dazzling moves with the puck, creating space in the offensive zone and moving through the neutral zone with relative ease.
It is true the Oilers do not want to get into a run 'n' gun game, where they consistently trade scoring chances with Carolina. But their own skilled players, such as Hemsky and Samsonov, have to deliver now that the Oilers have no margin for error and cannot simply hope to outhit the Canes and hope for the best.
Hemsky must translate that skill, and the space it helps create, into legitimate scoring chances. Playing for the most part with Smyth and Shawn Horcoff, Hemsky is the fuse. With one goal and two assists in his past seven games, Hemsky has a tendency to be streaky. It's time for one streak to end and another to begin, especially on the dormant Oilers power play.
Someone asked Oilers coach Craig MacTavish after Monday's disappointing 2-1 loss whether Hemsky needs to shoot more. It's not so much that he needs to direct pucks on net as that he needs to make sure the puck gets to players such as Smyth and Horcoff, who can take care of the shooting.
Cam Ward will be dealing with nerves, and Ales Hemsky will be trying to save his season. It's our Game 5 Matchup to Watch.