Did 'Canes blow it in Game 5?

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

RALEIGH -- Did the Carolina Hurricanes let the genie out of the bottle?

They found themselves in an enviable position Wednesday night. They had only to win one period to win the Stanley Cup.

They didn't do it. The game went into overtime and the Hurricanes needed to score the next goal to win the Cup.

They didn't do that either, despite being awarded a power play. Instead, they gave up a short-handed goal.

Perhaps they will still bounce back. Perhaps they'll win tomorrow's Game 6 in Edmonton.

But this much is certain. It would have been easier to win on Wednesday than it will be to win tomorrow.

For one thing, the Hurricanes are getting worn down.

WARD HURT

Injury reports are notoriously duplicitous at this time of the year, but defencemen Aaron Ward, one of the Hurricanes' true stalwarts, missed about half the game. If Ward is gone for that long, it has to be fairly serious.

The report was the usual "upper body injury." The suspicion was "separated shoulder."

In the case of forward Doug Weight, the suspicion was even stronger. He left in the first shift of the third period after being sandwiched between Edmonton's Raffi Torres and Chris Pronger. He bent over, dropped his stick and headed right for the training room.

Again, no report. Again, probably a separated shoulder. Weight returned to the bench late in the third period but he never saw another shift. The whisper afterward was that he returned only to take part in the celebration.

He wouldn't have been able to lift the Cup over his head, but he would have been able to savour the moment.

Another aspect that has to worry the Hurricanes is the fact that the referee-involvement cycle is due for a downturn.

Even though the officials have had a full season to acclimatize themselves to the new approach, it is still, as the league's commissioner likes to say, "a work in progress."

To their credit, the officials want to make sure that the standards that were imposed during the regular season are not allowed to slip.

But sometimes, in their zeal to make the call that is technically correct, they lose sight of the fact that hockey is a contact sport.

Some of Wednesday's calls seemed to be questionable, but they were totally in line with what has been called all year. Others, however, established new levels of intolerance.

It is not illegal to push in hockey if the boards don't come into the equation. It is not illegal to make incidental contact when skating alongside an opponent in a race for the puck.

But as the new standards are imposed, there are ebbs and flows. The tide was flowing on Wednesday. Look for it to ebb tomorrow, and that means fewer power plays.

For the Oilers, who have only two power-play goals in five games, this is good news. For the Hurricanes, who had three power-play goals on Wednesday alone, it is not.

OILERS CONFIDENT

Both coaches in this series make a point of getting their players to put any negative memories behind them. They don't dwell on previous mistakes and they don't worry about what might have been.

When the Oilers were down 3-1 heading on to the road, the task seemed daunting. But that situation is in the past and therefore irrelevant.

Now they're heading home needing to win to force a seventh game and they're brimming with confidence. They feel that they have turned the corner.

As coach Craig MacTavish said of the team's late-game mood, "We really had a sense that we were starting to turn the tide and the momentum in the game -- and in the series."

The Hurricanes are an excellent team and it won't be easy to defeat them twice. But more than ever, after dodging the bullet on Wednesday, the Oilers now feel they can do it.


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