Oilers have edge in leadership

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- There is no doubt that the Edmonton Oilers have the Carolina Hurricanes on the ropes.

It must be remembered, however, that there's a difference between on the ropes and on the canvas.

Anyone expecting the Hurricanes to fold because they've lost the past two games and were totally out-classed on Saturday night doesn't understand the mentality of National Hockey League players.

This is a rugged game and this is the best league in the world. You don't get to the seventh game of a Stanley Cup final without resolve, character, determination and all those other attributes that preclude any sort of rollover.

The guys who have been here before will tell you that the momentum of the series means nothing. The Oilers erased a 3-1 deficit. So what? All that did was set up Game 7. It didn't determine its outcome.

The momentum that does matter is the in-game momentum. If either team starts to dominate, then confidence builds and accelerates the process. But usually, that in-game momentum is a fragile commodity.

Its direction can be reversed by any one of a number of circumstances -- a great individual play, a refereeing decision, a lucky break and so on.

It is often said that the competition for the Stanley Cup is a marathon. And this year, the analogy is apt.

The Oilers hit their wall in the middle of the marathon when they had to play 11 games in 21 nights against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. But they survived, had an eight-day break and got back into the grind. Now it's the Hurricanes' turn to hit the wall as they go into a seventh game for the second series in a row.

The Oilers have been wearing down Carolina game by game. They're used to the cross-continent travel, whereas the Hurricanes rarely left their time zone all season long.

For the first time in four series, the Hurricanes are being hit, and the relentless physical assault is taking its toll. You can see the aversion in the way many Carolina players are approaching the game, the best example being Bret Hedican's performance in the first period on Saturday.

Twice he took penalties in reaction to legal bodychecks.

But now, when it all comes down to one game, it's a matter of pulling out all the stops. The Carolina motto has been, "Whatever it takes," but they forgot that motto once they hit the ice in Edmonton.

How do they get that focus back? This is where the real challenge arises.

Both teams will go into the game determined to win. Both will face adversity at some point. Both will have opportunities to excel.

Which will capitalize? Usually in these situations, it's the team that is better coached.

And even though there may or may not be much to choose between the staffs in the regular season, when it comes to the Stanley Cup final, the Oilers have a huge advantage.

Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette never came close to a Stanley Cup as a player. Assistant coach Jeff Daniels played on one Cup winner -- one more than the Hurricanes' other assistant coach, Kevin McCarthy.

Behind the Edmonton bench are coach Craig MacTavish and assistants Charlie Huddy and Craig Simpson. Grand total? Eleven Stanley Cups.

It's that kind of experience that helps you keep developments in perspective -- so you don't waste your timeout screaming at your players in the second period when a TV timeout is roughly 90 seconds away, for instance.

MacTavish said he felt the series turning in the third period of Game 5. Judging by what has happened since, it seems his sense was right on the button.

In a pressure cooker like a seventh game, leadership often makes the difference. And what better leaders than those who have been through it so many times before?


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