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June 20, 2006

How Edmonton Lost the Stanley Cup
It may have the hardware, but Carolina didn't win the Stanley Cup. TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski details how Edmonton totally lost it.

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- The final tally of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals was 4-3 in favor of the Carolina Hurricanes, the newly-crowned kings of the National Hockey League.

The final tally of Game 7, however, was 2-1 in favor of Edmonton; that the Oilers won't have their names on the chalice this year is, plain and simply, their own damn fault.

Carolina started the game as it has started many games in this stellar playoff run: with Hurricane force in the first period. The checking was flawless. The pressure was immense. Whatever momentum the Oilers had entering the contest was quickly shifted to the home team, as the Caniacs stood — as they did for the entire game, like the good ACC basketball fans they are — and rabidly rooted on their swarming horde of red and black. The result was Aaron Ward's second goal of the postseason at one minute, 26 seconds, for the 1-0 lead.

"It was big," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "I thought if we got through the first period down one goal, we'd be poised and in good position. And then Cam Ward shut the door."

Spare me the dramatics, Mac. Ward played well, but wasn't tested nearly enough. The Oilers had every opportunity to win this game in the second and third periods, and failed to capitalize on any of them.

Give Carolina credit for coming out in the first period, dominating play, and forcing the Oilers to rethink their entire approach to the contest. But Edmonton righted the ship over the next two frames, and could still be celebrating with the Cup in some bar with NASCAR posters on the hardwood walls if it hadn't played to lose.

Game 7 was one of the first instances in the 2006 postseason where the Oilers looked like a No. 8 seed: over their heads in a game in which they didn't belong. They looked in awe of a Carolina defense that blocked shots like Manute Bol but skated a hell of a lot better than he did.

It was reported during the game that Edmonton purposely was shooting the puck wide in the hopes of getting a lucky bounce off the boards, and to avoid the diving Canes defenders — just the opposite of the kind of aggressive play that characterized this entire postseason run for Edmonton.

Remember when the Oilers' Fernando Pisani — a player who went from two game-winning goals in 80 regular season games to five in 23 playoff games — scored to cut the Carolina Hurricanes' lead to 2-1?

That goal was the product of a wave of Oilers flooding Ward's crease. That goal was the product of gritty hard work, of a team barreling through the Canes' defense rather than meekly playing the puck around it. The sort of thing Edmonton did well for six games, and then failed to execute in the final showdown.

In Game 7, the Oilers were over-thinking half of their offensive chances. Sergei Samsonov sent a pass behind him on a 3-on-2 break. Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky didn't go to the net with their usual reckless abandon. And what can you say about Ethan Moreau and Radek Dvorak, who ended more Oilers chances than Cam Ward did?

(Is there an anti-Conn Smythe we can give to Dvorak, who didn't have a playoff point until Game 4 of the Finals?)

Enough about who didn't win — let's take a moment to honor the champs.

I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong, and I couldn't have been more off the mark about Carolina's special teams. We're talking Roman Hamrlik-point-shot-on-the-powerplay off the mark.

The Hurricanes' powerplay was the best in hockey on home ice during this postseason. The loss of Doug Weight hurt the unit in the final two games, but it scored nine goals with the man advantage in the Finals, including the game-winner by Frantisek Kaberle at 4:18 of the second.

Say what you will about the number of powerplay opportunities they had — and the fact that Carolina should feel very fortunate the NHL's crackdown on diving didn't carry over to the postseason — but the bottom line is that the Hurricanes converted when they needed to: Ray Whitney’s tally to tie Game 1 after Edmonton was spotted a lead; Weight and Mark Recchi scoring back-to-back power-play goals to open the third in Game 2; and Cory Stillman tying Game 4 just 29 seconds after Samsonov gave the Oilers the lead.

Notice something about those names? Like the fact that, between them, they have in played 3,732 career regular season games. And the fact that they came through on the man advantage in a way the Oilers simply could not when they needed to in Game 7 — including that back-breaking 5-on-3, a blown opportunity that may have cost them the Cup.

Congratulations to the Hurricanes: that team with the kid in goal, the kid leading scorer, and a collection of geezers who wanted it more than any other players in the hockey world this year.


...NBC's coverage ended at 11:11 EST, without hardly any postgame interviews of value or words from the losing team. That's the bad news. The good news is that the Cup Finals weren't on ESPN, where Steve "CENTERING FEED" Levy spent more time talking about the Hartford Whalers than he did analyzing Game 7. I'm pretty sure at one point he said that "if the Triangle had four points, the fourth point would be Hartford." Yeah, and then it'd be the Square, dummy.

...My take on that baffling series of events to end the first period? You can have possession of the puck without freezing it. That's all you need for a whistle on a delayed call, and that's all Steve Staios had to do. So taking away the penalty shot was the right call.

That said, the league has to be red-faced over what happened right before Staios had possession, which was the puck sliding over the line for what should have been a Carolina goal. NBC's techies in the truck outside the arena used super-slow motion to see the puck, using technology too time consuming to be used during a replay review. Why bother having replay at all if the technology isn't yet good enough to definitively discover the real truth? If replay is a check on on-ice officials, what's the check on replay?

...No truth to the rumor that the confetti falling down from the rafters were unused Charlotte Bobcats tickets.

...Is this the first Cup Final in the last decade in which Gary Bettman wasn't greeted with thunderous boos when presenting the Stanley Cup? What a difference a cap makes.

...Speaking of caps, those Carolina championship hats were pretty bitchin'. There's nothing more depressing than having your team win the Cup and discovering its commemorative hat is hideous. As a Devils' fan, I'm always going to look at the 2003 Cup win differently because that hat is such a fashion disaster. Well, that and the fact that Giguere won the Conn.

...And speaking of the Conn Smythe, Ward's win is important for two reasons: that a rookie goalie was able to make this run should give teams seeking help between the pipes pause before committing top dollars to an "old NHL" free agent keeper; and that even in the "new NHL," it still all comes down to goaltending in the end.

...Fan Quote of the Night, from Randy Bryant of Holly Springs to the Associated Press: "We already own NASCAR and now we own hockey."

...And finally, I'm not sure what was the most wonderful moment of the postgame celebration on the ice: Whitney dropping an F-bomb on NBC, or Rod Brind'Amour snatching the Cup before Bettman — who had just thanked everyone from Carolina's owners to its stickboys — could hand it over to the captain. You waited long enough, Rod. Congrats!

Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for and the Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. 
His book, "
Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" is now on sale.



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