EDMONTON, Alberta (AP)—A flick of the stick. A quick grab with the glove. A perfectly placed shot.
Just like that, Carolina had a goal. Now the Hurricanes find themselves one win away from their first Stanley Cup.
Thirty-eight-year-old Mark Recchi scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and rookie goalie Cam Ward made it stand up Monday night, leading Carolina to a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The Hurricanes got the split they needed in Edmonton and now head home with a commanding 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Wednesday night in basketball-loving Raleigh, on the cusp of putting a different kind of championship on ice.
“This is going to be the toughest game for us,” said Cory Stillman, who scored Carolina’s first goal and set up Recchi with a nifty bit of forechecking. “This is the one that could close the series. You know what, we’re looking forward to doing that on home ice.”
After Edmonton’s Sergei Samsonov and Stillman scored 29 seconds apart in the first period, the Hurricanes stunned the Oilers with a lightning quick play that began innocently enough.
Chris Pronger tried to clear the Edmonton zone, but Stillman reached out to get his stick on it. The puck popped up in front of the goal, where 6-foot-4 Eric Staal jumped up to knock it down with his glove, got control and sent a pass to Recchi at the side of the net.
“Stiller did a good job pressing Pronger and kind of got a stick on the puck,” Staal said. “Good thing I am 8 feet tall and I caught it, and then put it down. I knew Recchs was kind of back door. I just tried to make a move and throw it back there to him.”
Recchi, who was acquired from Pittsburgh during the season, lifted a shot under the crossbar that beat Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen with 4:04 left in the second.
“I play with a lot of energy and I play with a lot of passion,” Recchi said. “We’ve got our horses and I just follow behind and keep this thing going.”
Markkanen, making his third straight start in place of injured starter Dwayne Roloson, had another strong game after anchoring the Oilers’ 2-1 win in Game 3. The replacement made 18 saves, several of them downright spectacular.
In the first period, Markkanen appeared to get the shaft of his stick on a shot by Rod Brind’Amour—just enough to send it off the crossbar. The Oilers goalie also turned aside Justin Williams with a brilliant glove save early in the third, the left hand coming out of nowhere to snatch a puck that was headed for the top right corner.
Ward’s 20 saves didn’t look as acrobatic as Markkanen’s—maybe because the 22-year-old is playing so well that he makes everything look easy. His positioning was superb, he rarely gave up a dangerous rebound and Carolina could rest easy with its last line of defense.
So could Edmonton. Markkanen was fine; the Oilers were let down again by their ineffective power play, which failed to convert five chances—including a lengthy two-man advantage for the second game in a row—and dropped to 1-for-25 in the series.
“We’re not getting outplayed,” Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. “We’re getting out-capitalized. They’ve just been more opportunistic on their chances.”
The Oilers pressed hard for the tying goal in the final minutes, even managing a good chance while Jason Smith was in the penalty box for hooking. Dick Tarnstrom broke into the Carolina zone and flipped a pass in front of the goal to fellow defenseman Steve Staios, who got a stick on it but tipped it wide of Ward.
The crowd cheered on the home team with deafening, alternating chants of “Lets go Oilers!” and “Go, Oilers, go!” But Ward, an Edmonton native, wasn’t about to let another puck past him.
The young goalie, a leading contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if Carolina finishes the job, bounced back from the disappointment of Game 3.
Edmonton won 2-1 on Ryan Smyth’s disputed goal with just over two minutes remaining. The Hurricanes thought Smyth interfered with Ward in the crease.
Samsonov and Radek Dvorak teamed up on a slick give-and-go play less than nine minutes into Monday’s game to put Edmonton ahead.
As Samsonov was splitting the circle, he backhanded a pass to Dvorak along the boards. Dvorak returned the puck with a backhanded flip of his own and Samsonov tipped it past a helpless Ward at the far post.
On the ensuing faceoff, Edmonton’s Raffi Torres got tied up with a Carolina player and was called for tripping. The Hurricanes wasted no time capitalizing on the power play, tying it on Stillman’s ninth goal of the playoffs.
Frantisek Kaberle lifted a pass from one circle to the other, the puck sailing by a couple of Edmonton players and right onto Stillman’s stick. He ripped a shot past Markkanen before the goalie had a chance to cover the open side of his net.
Stillman extended his playoff scoring streak to 12 games and gave himself a chance for back-to-back titles. He won the cup with Tampa Bay in 2004.
“I am getting some breaks, to be honest with you,” he said. “But you’ve got to play with confidence, and I have that right now.”
Staal, a 100-point scorer in the regular season, hasn’t had a goal in seven straight playoff games, but he assisted on both Carolina goals to answer those who questioned whether the 21-year-old center was wearing down.
“I wanted to get dirty, get in the physical battle,” he said. “It was a battle, but I felt good getting in the mix.”
He’ll feel even better with one more win.
For the second game in a row, the Edmonton fans booed every time Carolina C Doug Weight touched the puck. The former Oilers star was traded to St. Louis in 2001 because Edmonton couldn’t afford his contract demands. The fans are still bitter about the whole situation, even though he was the Oilers’ top scorer in seven of his eight full seasons with the team. … Recchi scored the 47th goal of his playoff career. … Former Edmonton stars Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson attended the game and drew big cheers when they were shown on the video board. Coffey held up one of the Stanley Cup rings for the camera.