Fair or not – and really, no fair conclusions can be drawn from a four-game observational snapshot – those were your storylines entering Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.
One by one those misconceptions fell by the wayside Wednesday, not because the Edmonton Oilers turned their game plan inside out in a desperation move but rather because, as coach Craig MacTavish has been saying for days, these things have a way of evening out.
Pronger, chastised of late for continually firing wide on the power play, aimed true on his first big slap shot of the night. The puck deflected ever so slightly off the toe of Fernando Pisani's stick, and the redirection was just enough to put Edmonton up 1-0 just 16 seconds in.
Ales Hemsky was next. MacTavish was visibly irritated when reporters asked him if he was upset at his center for passing up shots earlier in the series. Hemsky is, after all, his top playmaker and leading scorer from the regular season, and the coach doesn't need reporters who haven't followed the team all season telling him how to play the game.
After the Carolina Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead on successive power-play goals, Hemsky found himself smack dab in the middle of the left-wing faceoff circle with a puck approaching his stick. He didn't hesitate, firing a one-timer past Carolina goalie Cam Ward and into the top corner of the net for a tying goal.
It was Hemsky's second goal of the series and it came on the power play. While Edmonton would come up empty on its next seven power-play chances, it was a big monkey off the back for a team that hadn't scored with the man advantage since Game 1.
All that happened in the first period – the exorcizing of four games worth of demons – and it resulted in a 3-2 intermission lead for the Oilers. The only part of the Edmonton game plan that wasn't executed was staying out of the penalty box.
The Oilers took five penalties in the opening period, and while the penalty kill remained aggressive, it was burned twice by the Hurricanes. But Edmonton settled down, committing only three penalties in the final two periods and overtime.
One of those was a Steve Staios tripping penalty in overtime. And after Pisani jumped on an errant pass to score a breakaway, game-winning goal while shorthanded, a new storyline developed for Game 6.
Edmonton might just have a shot.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Hard to believe after a 100-point season and a 15-game playoff point streak, but Carolina forward Eric Staal had something to prove in Game 5. While the Hurricanes charged out to a 3-1 series lead, Staal was held without a goal. Though he collected two assists in Game 4, his best of the series, he played an uncharacteristically low 14 minutes, 45 seconds. Staal went back to being a force Wednesday. He scored twice on aggressive second-effort plays and absorbed a big hit while gaining the zone before assisting on a Ray Whitney power-play goal. Edmonton's Game 6 dilemma: focus on Staal or Brind'Amour?
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Hey, Chris Pronger can get the puck on the net. He led all Edmonton skaters with five shots in Game 5, a total that doesn't include the shot Pisani redirected to break the ice. Pronger logged almost 34 minutes of ice time, recorded two hits and was part of the sandwich that knocked Doug Weight out of the game for the final period and overtime.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Give Fernando Pisani a seven-game series, and he may just match his regular-season total of 18 goals in the postseason. Pisani scored twice Wednesday, deflecting Pronger's shot to get the scoring going early and capitalizing on a bad pass in overtime to keep the Stanley Cup under lock and key for at least another two nights. Pisani now has 12 playoff goals, tying Brind'Amour for the league lead.
Back on April 27, Edmonton rookie defenseman Matt Greene made his playoff debut in Game 4 of the conference quarterfinals against Detroit. He took three minor penalties that night, the Oilers lost 4-2, and Greene was scratched for the rest of the series. He has been a lineup staple ever since, providing blue-line depth and a big body for the Oilers, but penalties have continued to be a problem. Greene was whistled for two first-period minors Wednesday, and Carolina converted twice while a man up to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. Staying out of the penalty box was a focus for the Oilers going into Game 5, and both of his infractions were of the frequently called variety. He took only five shifts after the first period, which essentially put Edmonton a man down as the game progressed into overtime.
Cory Stillman is the last guy you would expect to suffer an overtime meltdown for the Hurricanes. He has been a solid veteran influence both on and off the ice for Carolina in this second season. Twice he has been an overtime hero. But there he was Wednesday, floating a lazy cross-ice pass just inside his own blue line – a pass that seemed to inch toward linemate Eric Staal. Pisani jumped the pass, beat Staal to the puck and skated in alone on Ward, who was beaten high on the glove side. Game over.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR SATURDAY
Game 6: Carolina Hurricanes at Edmonton Oilers: – The absence of left wing Erik Cole has been a factor, of course, but Carolina has negotiated its way through these Stanley Cup playoffs in relatively good health. That all changed when defenseman Aaron Ward took a nasty hit in the first period. He missed the better part of two periods before skating regular shifts toward the end of regulation and overtime. Of greater concern could be the health of center Doug Weight. He didn't play in the third period or overtime after getting sandwiched between two Edmonton players. If Weight can't go Saturday, the Hurricanes will be without one of their veteran playmakers for what is sure to be a raucous Game 6.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch
If you're an Edmonton fan, you'll want to watch the Pisani goal – the first shorthanded goal in Stanley Cup finals history – over and over. If you're part of the Hurricanes faithful, those agonizing moments between Stillman's pass and Pisani's goal are too unbearable to watch again.
- Fernando Pisani