The Edmonton Oilers scored first Monday, doubled up Carolina's shot total in the opening period and threw their weight around with 12 hits – and still they must have felt totally disheartened after 20 minutes.
Just like in Game 3, the Oilers were handed an opportunity to seize momentum with an extended 5-on-3 power play in the first period. Just like in Game 3, momentum shifted to the Hurricanes when that opportunity came and went with nary a scoring chance developing.
The contrast in special teams play Monday was startling.
Handed its first power-play chance shortly after Edmonton took a 1-0 lead, Carolina made purposeful passes – in the end using the Oilers' aggressiveness to their own advantage. With Edmonton over-pursuing the puck on one side of the ice, Frantisek Kaberle made a perfect cross-ice pass to Cory Stillman, who was all alone in the right-wing faceoff circle.
That goal didn't silence the Oilers crowd – heck, the Edmonton faithful were still chanting "let's go Oilers" during post-game interviews – but it did hammer home the point that the Hurricanes were dominating special teams play in this series.
And later in the period that domination would become even more evident.
In Game 3 Carolina killed a 1:26 two-man Edmonton advantage. Monday the Hurricanes faced another 5-on-3, this one for 1:12. Again, Edmonton was unable to capitalize.
While Carolina moved the puck with confidence, Edmonton's power-play attack resembled a frenzied game of keep-away – each pass designed not to set up a scoring chance, but rather to postpone the inevitable turnover.
In all the Oilers squandered five power-play chances in Game 4. They are now 1-for-25 in the series. After the game coach Craig MacTavish admitted that those first-period failures robbed the team of some momentum. He also got testy with reporters who challenged the team's power-play tactics.
The bottom line is that Edmonton needs to take better care of the puck on special teams. Chris Pronger finished with two giveaways Monday and hardly looked like a calming influence on the power play. Top center Ales Hemsky was guilty of five turnovers.
MacTavish reacted angrily when asked if he'd consider using hulking winger Georges Laraque to create traffic on the power play. Clearly his irritation was a product of the fact that it doesn't matter who you park in front of the net if you don't direct pucks in that direction.
If something doesn't change between now and Game 5 – and who knows, all it may take is a lucky bounce – Carolina is likely to be celebrating a championship come Wednesday.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Though he was held without a shot for the second consecutive game, this was Eric Staal's best game of the series. Staal assisted on both Carolina goals, the most impressive play coming on Mark Recchi's game-winner. After Cory Stillman interrupted Chris Pronger's clearing attempt, Staal gloved the puck down and settled it on his stick. The key to the play was waiting out a sliding Jason Smith, who was trying to break up the play. With the threat from Smith neutralized, Staal fired a perfect backhand pass to Recchi, who beat a defenseless Jussi Markkanen for a 2-1 lead.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Very little was said about the play of Edmonton goalie Jussi Markkanen after the game Monday – and that says a lot. The injury to Dwayne Roloson is no longer the story of this series. Markkanen's play has put that issue on the back burner. Though he made only 18 saves in Game 4, several were of the game-saving variety. In the second period with Chris Pronger in the penalty box, Markkanen subbed in nicely as the team's best penalty killer. He turned away Rod Brind'Amour on a great scoring chance, then went post-to-post to rob Ray Whitney of a sure goal moments later. He added a breathtaking glove save in the third period that kept the game in reach.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
It was another clutch game for Cory Stillman, who has quietly put together a 12-game scoring streak. He beat Markkanen with a laser shot on the power play just 30 seconds after Edmonton had taken a 1-0 lead. And it was his aggressive forecheck that caused the Pronger turnover that resulted in Recchi's game-winner. With Cam Ward and Rod Brind'Amour in the running, Stillman has very little chance of earning Conn Smythe honors as playoff MVP, but he certainly deserves consideration.
The streamers were still falling from the rafters after Edmonton's first goal when Raffi Torres was sent to the penalty box for tripping. Thirty seconds later the game was tied. Talk about a momentum shift. For Torres it was a simple case of carelessness. The puck had just dropped after the Oilers goal when Torres got his stick tangled in the legs of a Carolina player. An innocent enough play at center ice, but one that referees were forced to whistle.
Of course, the story Monday was again the futility of Edmonton's power play. Officially, the Oilers were credited with six power-play shots on their five chances. But only one of those shots came from closer than 30 feet. Carolina goalie Cam Ward was solid in Game 4, but just like in Games 1 and 2, his job was just too easy.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR WEDNESDAY
Game 5: Edmonton Oilers at Carolina Hurricanes: – Of course one reason to tune in is to see the Stanley Cup awarded for the first time in two years. And if Lord Stanley's Cup does in fact find its way onto the RBC Center ice, it will signal the end of a 14-year championship quest for Carolina forward Doug Weight. Ditto for Brind'Amour, who has been chasing a title for 16 seasons.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch
Markkanen provided the three best clips of the night – robbing Brind'Amour twice and Whitney once to keep the game close. The third-period glove save on Brind'Amour was the best of the night.