RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes staggered home
Sunday, trying to figure out how it has gone so wrong, so quickly.
A few of them stopped by the locker room, where they could have
been sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup a few days ago. Now,
their equipment was being sorted out for one more game, one more
chance to avoid a mammoth collapse.
"I think we're all embarrassed by the way we played,"
defenseman Glen Wesley said.
One timely goal away from capturing the cup in Game 5, the
Hurricanes find themselves very much on the defensive heading to
Game 7 against the resurgent Edmonton Oilers, who suddenly seem
much fresher, a step or two quicker and a lot more determined.
"I know we've been the underdog in most people's minds,"
Oilers center Shawn Horcoff said. "But we really believe we can
get this thing done."
Only one team has squandered a 3-1 lead in the finals.
Sixty-four years ago, Detroit actually won the first three games
against Toronto, only to lose the next four.
The 1942 Red Wings also are one of three teams that jumped out
to a 2-0 lead and didn't win the cup.
The Hurricanes put themselves in position to join those infamous
teams with a 4-3 overtime loss at home -- on a short-handed goal, no
less -- and a dismal 4-0 defeat at Edmonton in Game 6 on Saturday
Now, it's on to the winner-take-all finale. Game 7 is Monday
night in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes have history on their side, if not as much bounce
in their skates. When the finals go to Game 7, the home team is
11-2. The 1971 Montreal Canadiens were the last road team to
capture the cup in a decisive game.
Just as the Oilers fed off the enthusiasm of their fans Saturday
night in Alberta, Carolina is counting on its crowd to be a major
factor on Tobacco Road.
"They've been a huge boost to us all year," said rookie goalie
Cam Ward, one of the few Hurricanes who's played well throughout
the series. "We've got to use that to our advantage."
Edmonton looked right on the mark when it claimed to be wearing
down a Carolina lineup filled with key 30-something players such as
Wesley (37), Rod Brind'Amour (35), Bret Hedican (35) and Ray
Led by feisty, hit-anything-in-red Raffi Torres, the younger
Oilers are much like a boxer who just wants to get an aging fighter
into the later rounds, then finish him off.
"We feel like we've got them to the point where we can push
them over the edge," Edmonton left wing Ethan Moreau said.
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette even seemed to concede as much,
at least for one night. He wondered why his team appeared so slow
and out of sync in Game 6.
"We were pretty lousy in all aspects," he said. "We didn't
have energy in our legs, in our skating, all the things that have
been trademark for us all season long."
Maybe they're just saving up for that final game.
"We're not running out of gas. We didn't waste any," Whitney
said in a sarcastic dig at his own team's Game 6 effort. "We
should have plenty of energy for Monday night."
If not for several big saves by Ward -- including an
extraordinary glove stop on Radek Dvorek at the end of a
three-on-one -- the Hurricanes would have been beaten much, much
worse. In the second period, they didn't force Oilers goalie Jussi
Markkanen to block the puck for more than 14 minutes. Edmonton had
21 of the first 24 shots and finished with a commanding 34-16 edge.
Borrowing a page from the Hurricanes' defensive playbook earlier
in the series, Markkanen's teammates actually blocked more shots
(20) than he did in helping the former third-string goalie to his
first playoff shutout.
In fact, this series seems to have flipped around totally.
Edmonton, which converted only one of 25 power plays in the first
two games, scored three of its four goals Saturday with the man
Carolina, which had been doing such a good job killing penalties
and capitalizing on them, went 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 6.
"We know the power play is going to play a tremendous role in
the next game," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "Whoever
wins the special teams is going to have a huge advantage."
The Hurricanes pulled a major surprise in the last game, putting
30-goal scorer Erik Cole back in the lineup when it was thought he
was done for the season after breaking a vertebra in his neck in
When center Doug Weight went out with an injured right shoulder
in Game 5, Cole asked if he could fill the spot. Carolina hurriedly
arranged for him to have a CT scan in Denver on Friday, then flew
in the Duke University doctor who was overseeing the player's
recovery to discuss the results face-to-face before Saturday's
Cole conceded that he's at greater risk for a more serious
injury, but he's willing to take that chance -- especially with the
Stanley Cup on the line.
"This is my life," he said. "I've always wanted to be a
Cole played 18½ minutes, took Weight's place on the power play,
got a couple of shots on goal, doled out three hits and survived a
big blow from Moreau on the very first shift. But it wasn't nearly
enough to spark the listless Hurricanes.
"We're a resilient team," Wesley said. "We've been in these
situations before. We've had our backs against the wall. I see no
reason we won't come up with our best performance."