RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Ever suspicious when it comes to injuries, Carolina coach Peter Laviolette hedged his words when talking about Dwayne Roloson’s aching knee.
“We try to plan for everything,” Laviolette said. “I guess we’ll find out (Wednesday) whether he is or he’s not playing.”
Trust us, coach, he’s not playing.
Roloson hobbled around the arena on Tuesday after getting an MRI at nearby Duke University. His season is done. His teammates vowed to carry on.
Either Ty Conklin or Jussi Markkanen will start for the Oilers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, well aware that their team is already down a game to the Hurricanes and reeling from the loss of its playoff star.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Conklin said after an off-day practice. “You’d love to see the guy finish what he started here in the playoffs. But that’s not the situation anymore.”
Until now, Conklin and Markkanen had spent the entire postseason watching Roloson pull off one miraculous save after another, leading the eight-seeded Oilers to the brink of their first Stanley Cup title since 1990.
Now, it’s all on their shoulders because of Roloson’s right knee, which was wrenched in a goal-mouth collision during the closing minutes of Game 1. The 36-year-old starter is out for the series with a sprained medial collateral ligament.
Conklin, who played only 18 games during the regular season while battling injuries and stinging criticism, was the first guy off the bench after Roloson was injured Monday night.
The backup didn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence when he botched a clearing attempt behind the net, allowing Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour to score into an open net with a half-minute remaining for a 5-4 victory.
“There’s nothing I can do about it anymore,” Conklin said. “It wasn’t the best play, but it happens.”
Markkanen, who wasn’t in uniform for the opener, is the other option. Coach Craig MacTavish wouldn’t say which goalie he planned to start in Game 2, or even if he had made his decision.
Does it really matter?
Both goalies struggled during the regular season. Conklin was bothered by a strained groin and made two trips to the minors trying to get back into playing shape. Markkanen handled most of the games early on, but he didn’t make nearly enough big saves. The since-traded Mike Morrison also figured in the mix as the Oilers flailed around in their search for a reliable No. 1 goalie.
MacTavish got downright desperate at times.
In late October, Markkanen was lifted after he gave up three goals on 13 shots. Conklin took over in the nets, only to give up four goals on 11 shots in the second period. Markkanen returned to play the final 20 minutes of a 7-1 loss to Colorado, with both goalies hearing plenty of boos from the home crowd.
In early March, MacTavish was still trying to shake things up. After Conklin played all 65 minutes of regulation and overtime against Dallas, Morrison was sent in to handle the shootout. That unusual move didn’t work, either.
Roloson steadied things the rest of the way, playing 19 straight regular-season games to help the Oilers lock up the last playoff berth in the Western Conference before Conklin started the meaningless finale.
In the playoffs, Roloson played every minute of every game as the Oilers knocked off top-seeded Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim to reach the finals. He certainly would have played every game against Carolina, but that run ended with just under six minutes left in the opener.
The teams were tied at 4 when Carolina rookie Andrew Ladd carried the puck into the Edmonton zone and cut across in the front of the net. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron unloaded a big hit from behind that drove Ladd into Roloson.
“I knew right away that something bad happened,” Roloson said. “I felt something pop in my knee.”
The Hurricanes know they’ve gotten a huge break. During the playoffs, there’s nothing more important than having a hot goaltender—and the Oilers just lost the hottest one around.
“Obviously, he was playing very well for them,” Laviolette said. “Any time you take a main player out of your lineup, you’re going to feel the effects of it.”
But Carolina isn’t ready to start planning its summer tour with the cup. There are still three more games to win—no matter who’s in goal for Edmonton.
“They have two goalies who have played all year in the NHL,” Cory Stillman said. “Our game plan is not going to change, no matter what goalie we face. We’ve got to get pucks to the net, we’ve got to get people to the net. If he can’t see them, he’s not going to stop them.”
Regardless of who starts for the Oilers, there will be plenty of rust to shake off.
Markkanen’s most recent appearance was March 1. Other than the last regular-season game, Conklin hasn’t started since March 7—that embarrassing episode in Dallas when he was benched for the shootout.
But, after watching Roloson pull off three straight upsets in the playoffs, maybe these two can team up for the biggest one of all.
“It’s pretty interesting,” Markkanen said. “that we’re going to have a chance to finish what we started.”