There were several storylines queued up in advance of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. None of them involved the Oilers rebounding from a backbreaking loss while simultaneously adjusting to life without the goalie that carried them this far.
But that storyline did develop in the waning moments of a Stanley Cup finals opener that had to be seen to be believed. So the question now is: Do any of the other angles really matter?
Let's first deal with the questions we knew existed when the puck dropped for Game 1.
Cam Ward vs. the Stanley Cup finals:
When lineups were announced, Carolina's Cam Ward became the first rookie goalie to start a Stanley Cup finals game since 1987. Goalie experience hasn't amounted to much in this postseason tournament. Would that change under the harsh light of the finals? Do OLN cameras even cast a harsh glare?
Ward did fall behind 3-0 Monday, but Edmonton's first goal came after a bad giveaway, its second came on a penalty shot and the third tally was deflected by a Carolina defenseman an instant before it reached Ward. The rookie didn't display even a hint of frustration. Ward kept his cool, made some key saves as Carolina inched back in, then was simply spectacular in stopping 17 of 18 shots in the third period. Test passed.
Carolina top-ranked power play vs. Edmonton top-ranked penalty kill:
Through two periods, Edmonton had the upper hand. Carolina had a few decent scoring chances on its first power play, but Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson was solid as the last line of defense. From there it was all Edmonton pressure. An Ethan Moreau partial breakaway diffused Carolina's second power play. Another penalty kill featured a Ryan Smyth breakaway followed by a 2-on-1 only seconds later.
Eventually the constant threat of a shorthanded rush could plant second thoughts in the minds of Carolina's attackers. It didn't show Monday, however, as Edmonton took one too many penalties, the final leading to a Ray Whitney power-play goal. The battle was pretty much a wash, but Carolina gets the overall special teams edge for killing an extended 5-on-3 power play in the first period.
Edmonton's shutdown defenseman against Carolina's dynamic young forward. Sounds like a great matchup, but it didn't materialize much Monday. Pronger and defense partner Jason Smith spent most of the night matched up against the Rod Brind'Amour line. Pronger was on the ice for the game-winning goal but can't really be faulted. Staal didn't get a shot off in the third period and wasn't a huge factor in Game 1.
So that brings us to the final and suddenly most important question. Can Edmonton rebound from the loss of Roloson, who skated off the ice with a knee injury after a collision with Carolina forward Andrew Ladd?
Before Roloson arrived at the trade deadline, Edmonton's goalie situation was poisoning the team's playoff push. When training camp broke, local media outlets began to refer to the team's goalie tandem as Conkkanen. That's how underwhelming Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen were. Neither had an identity of his own.
Before long Michael Morrison was everyone's darling. He's not even in the picture anymore. Conklin is, though confidence problems forced him into an extended stint in the American League early in the season. Since March 7, he has started one NHL game. That's one more than Markkanen, who last appeared on March 1.
Coach Craig MacTavish wouldn't name a starter for Game 2 after the extent of Roloson's injury was announced. Again, not exactly a vote of confidence. Roloson was just too big a factor in the Oilers' playoff run for the team to make a series out of this.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Cam Ward made two incredible glove saves on Shawn Horcoff in the third period, the final coming with less than a minute remaining. In each case Horcoff appeared to have half the Carolina net as a target. In both instances Ward sprawled across the crease to deny the goal. Ward was cool under pressure, both when the game appeared to be slipping away early and when the third-period dramatics unfolded.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Before the craziness, there were key goals to get Carolina back into the game. Ray Whitney, a former Edmonton stick boy, scored two huge goals for the Hurricanes in the second period. It was Whitney's third two-goal game of the playoffs.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Thursday Rod Brind'Amour found a loose puck in Rory Fitzpatrick's skates and turned his good fortune into a series-winning goal. Who knew that was just the beginning of a lucky streak? Carolina's captain scored twice without much resistance in Monday's Game 1. In the second period he collected a rebound of a Justin Williams shot and slid the puck past Roloson, who was defenseless. Then there was the game-winner, gift wrapped by Edmonton goalie Ty Conklin in one of the all-time deer-in-the-headlights moments in Stanley Cup finals history. Of course, not everything was handed to Brind'Amour. He was typically masterful in the faceoff department, winning 28 of the 34 draws he took, many coming against Horcoff, who is no slouch in the circle.
Moreau spoiled a solid game by taking a silly penalty early in the third period. Roloson already had frozen the puck for a whistle when Moreau ran a Carolina player from behind. He was sent off for the cross-check and Carolina capitalized on the ensuing power play to give the Hurricanes a 4-3 lead.
Oilers fans were no doubt holding their breath waiting for Conklin's first save after the Roloson injury. Who knew it would be a seemingly innocent puck exchange behind the net that would doom Edmonton in Game 1. With a little more than 30 seconds remaining in a tie game, Conklin left his crease to settle the puck behind the net. He could have played the puck to approaching defenseman Jason Smith right away, or just left the puck there for Smith. Instead Conklin waited until Smith was nearly on top of the puck before flipping a backhand pass that handcuffed his target. Moments later with neither player in control, Brind'Amour swooped in for the game-winning goal. Simply a painful end to an otherwise well-played game.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR WEDNESDAY
Game 2: Edmonton Oilers at Carolina Hurricanes: – Needless to say all eyes will be on the Edmonton goalie situation. Who will start? Can Conklin shrug off memories of his Game 1 meltdown and even the series? If MacTavish goes with Markkanen, how long will it take for him to knock off the rust? Look for Carolina to fire pucks on net at every opportunity to test the fortitude of whoever gets the call.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch
Chris Pronger's penalty shot was history-making and Conklin's gaffe a series-changer, but there were no prettier plays than the two glove saves Ward made on Horcoff in the third period Monday.