Carolina Wards off Oilers

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

RALEIGH -- For two full days, debate raged as to who would be last night's starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers.

It seemed important at the time. And eventually, fans got the answer.

The guy who lost Monday's game in relief of the injured Dwayne Roloson -- Ty Conklin -- would watch from the bench. The starter would be Jussi Markkanen.

But once the game began, it became evident that it didn't matter.

Even though the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 last night to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup final, the score was not a reflection of the play.

It was 'Canes goalie Cam Ward who stole the spotlight, stopping a series of point-blank chances from the Oilers, especially when the outcome was still in doubt and having a generally spectacular evening.

"It was really a tight game," said Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour. "We got a big goal right at the end of the second. That probably was the backbreaker, but goaltending was the key.

"It wasn't a 5-0 game. It was tight, real tight, chance for chance -- not many, but they had a couple of glorious ones and Cam made some huge saves.

"When you get those saves, it makes you just kind of keep rolling along. You don't have to worry too much. He has been playing great for us."

Matt Cullen agreed.

"Eric Staal and I were sitting on the bench shaking our heads," Cullen said. "Cam probably gets overlooked a little bit tonight because there was a wide margin at the end, but man, he was dynamite at the beginning."

The Oilers showed no signs of nervousness or shakiness after their heartbreaking loss in the opener, and certainly no signs of falling back into a shell to protect Markkanen.

Instead, they went to the attack and seemed to have the puck for most of the first period. They had fewer shots than the Hurricanes, but there were three reasons for that.

The first was they often chose to wait for the perfect opportunity. The second was that the Carolina defenders did a great job of positioning themselves in the lanes and blocking the shots. The third was that Ward was brilliant.

Ward, of course, just shrugged it off.

"I felt good," he said. "That was a reflection of the team. There were a lot of instances where we came up with key blocks that probably would have been sure goals."

"He is a cool kid," Brind'Amour said. "I don't think anything distracts him. We're proud of him because he just battles for us. He's why we are still playing right now.

"I think goaltending made the difference tonight early on. Then we got a couple and shut the door."

To be specific, they got one in the first when the go-for-the-gusto Oilers coughed up a two-on-one and Andrew Ladd's shot deflected off Marc-Andre Bergeron's skate and past Markkanen.

They scored another in the second period when the Oilers got themselves into trouble with a string of penalties. They had just killed a five-on-three for 1:14 when Raffi Torres went off for interference in the neutral zone. While he was gone, Frantisek Kaberle beat Markkanen.

Then came the one Brind'Amour called the "backbreaker." The Oilers seemed to take a cavalier approach to basic defensive zone coverage and, with less than three seconds remaining in the period, Cory Stillman was left with a huge target -- which he hit with a backhander.

After that, it was just a matter of the Hurricanes racking up more power-play goals. Doug Weight and Mark Recchi got one each while the Oilers settled for running out the clock.

Of the five goals, Markkanen looked bad only on Kaberle's. He wasn't the reason Edmonton lost. The whole team had to take the blame for this one.


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