EDMONTON, Alberta -- Really, this is the way it should be. One game for all the marbles between two teams that are poster children for everything the NHL hoped to -- and in fact has -- become.
For sheer drama there's not much to rival a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals, especially when it involves two worthy heavyweight contenders, one with speed and skill, the other with quickness and the ability to inflict punishing body blows, standing toe-to-toe in a fight to the finish.
|The Hurricanes need to put Game 6 behind them right away. (AP)|
But it won't do justice to what has been an absolutely riveting NHL postseason unless the Hurricanes find a way to rebound from their most embarrassing effort of the entire playoffs.
"We didn't show up tonight," said Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley. "I don't know how to explain it. I wish I could."
It really shouldn't be that hard to understand. Facing elimination for the second consecutive game, the Oilers effectively stopped the fleet-footed Hurricanes in their tracks by following their series-long approach of inflicting pain to reap gain.
And if the aches weren't enough, the Hurricanes find themselves back on their heels -- if not on some other part of their anatomy. Carolina is reeling from losing two straight for the first time since the opening games of Round 1 against Montreal, and forced into its own do-or-die situation after missing back-to-back chances to put the Oilers away.
Not that anyone should be surprised by Edmonton's dogged refusal to go quietly into the summer. The Oilers have overcome long odds, the flu and a season-ending injury to their starting goalie in these playoffs, yet remain standing and get a chance to relive the franchise's glory that not long ago seemed gone forever.
"Guys in the locker room all talk about belief," said Oilers forward Ryan Smyth. "We all talk about urgency, the will to win, never quitting and keeping positive through the whole situation.
"Now we've given ourselves an opportunity to play in Game 7."
And they did it by putting an exclamation mark on the survival instinct they have shown, dominating the Hurricanes thoroughly enough to make you wonder if their home-ice advantage wasn't manifested by tilting the surface in their favor.
The only numbers that probably didn't reflect the true level of Edmonton's annihilation of the 'Canes were on the scoreboard.
On the shot clock, Edmonton had a 34-16 margin, including a second period in which it kept Carolina from putting a puck on goalie Jussi Markkanen until 14:11 had elapsed. On the penalty kill, the Oilers stopped the best power-play unit in the playoffs on six tries. In the faceoff circle, Edmonton won two-thirds of the draws not taken in neutral zones.
"They outskated us, outjumped us and outquicked us," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "They had their legs under them, we didn't."
Chalk that up to an Edmonton team that was riding momentum from its dramatic overtime win in Game 5, and believing that the constant pounding it put on Carolina was starting to take its toll. The Oilers wasted little time sending the message that more was in store for Carolina, with captain Jason Smith using the first shift to flatten Josef Vasicek and then to run over Rod Brind'Amour.
"It was definitely a good start for us," said Oilers forward Raffi Torres. "That was the big key for the way the game panned out."
Particularly since just about everyone on the Oilers soon joined in on the act: Todd Harvey bowled over Aaron Ward; Ethan Moreau crushed Erik Cole, who was in the lineup to replace Doug Weight and playing for the first time since breaking a vertebra in his neck in March; and Matt Greene thumped Cory Stillman.
The effect was chilling on Carolina, causing its players to either look over their shoulders or hesitate to get involved in puck battles before they began retaliating out of frustration and taking uncharacteristic penalties.
Still, Edmonton didn't capitalize on any of the man-advantage chances in the first period and went into the locker tied 0-0, mainly because of the sharp work by Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. But the overall impact was visible in second period when it became clear that Carolina was done.
Fernando Pisani, the hero of Game 5 when he scored the winner shorthanded in overtime, picked up a power play goal less than two minutes in. Torres doubled the lead by tipping in a Steve Staios blast from the point just before the halfway mark of the period, giving Edmonton all the offense it really needed.
They got more in the third period when Smyth and Shawn Horcoff scored power play goals to put things away and send the series back to Raleigh for a dramatic finale.
"It's at home. What else can you ask for?" said Carolina center Kevyn Adams. "If you told us at the start of the year we're going to have a seventh game and be in our building, we'd take it and here we are."
And that's the way it should be.