Candy goes to 'Canes

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It was down to one game for the championship. One game to live the dream. One game to prove who deserved the Stanley Cup.

And a tremendous game it was, loaded with action, hits, chances and spectacular plays. And fittingly, in the end, the better team won.

The Edmonton Oilers came on in the third period but were decidedly out-classed in the first two. As a result, the Carolina Hurricanes won 3-1 and are the 2006 Stanley Cup champions.

The score compliments the Oilers. Until the third period, they couldn't match the 'Canes' intensity and never looked as if they intended to win.

"We were a little tight, I think, early," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "And it cost us the game. We didn't get through it, and ultimately it was the difference in the game."

Riding the sound wave provided by their boisterous crowd, the Hurricanes looked confident as they went to the attack in a hurry. Edmonton, on the other hand, looked tentative and nervous, not at all like the high-flying team that has dismantled the Hurricanes just two nights earlier.

MacTavish was not surprised by the Hurricanes early rush.

"I was expecting it," he said. "A team doesn't get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals by being wallflowers."

With the Oilers looking flustered, it was little wonder the Hurricanes got on the scoreboard early in the first period when Aaron Ward slid a point shot past Jussi Markkanen at 1:26. Had Markkanen been able to see it, he would have stopped it with ease, but the 'Canes were buzzing around and blocking his view.

"I thought if we could get through that first period down only one goal after the way we started, we'd be in good position," MacTavish said. "But then Cam Ward shut the door."

Ward was steady throughout the game and excellent in the third period when he needed to be. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, but didn't seem terribly impressed by it.

"It's completely irrelevant," he said. "The trophy that matters the most is that Stanley Cup that you hoist, and the guys completely deserve it."

Ward is to be married July 22 and he could find a use for the Cup on that occasion.

"I haven't put much thought in it," he said. "But it probably would make a nice centrepiece."

Early in the second period, the Hurricanes added a power-play goal when Frantisek Kaberle's point shot deflected off Jason Smith and past Markkanen.

Even though the Oilers were being badly outplayed, they had a golden opportunity to get back in the game when Niclas Wallin and Ward were penalized four seconds apart.

But as the Oilers have proved so often, they are remarkably adept at killing five-on-three situations, especially their own.

They fiddled around for almost a minute showing no sense of urgency, then handed the puck to the Hurricanes. At that point, Ryan Smyth hooked Glen Wesley and the glorious opportunity disappeared, taking with it most of the Oilers' hopes of mounting a comeback.

"We might have left one on the table there," conceded MacTavish. "As hard as we worked to get back in the series, that may have been the turning point."

Still, seeing their Stanley Cup hopes slipping away, the Oilers applied pressure as soon as the third period began and were quickly rewarded.

Raffi Torres took a shot and Rem Murray, heading for the net, pounced on the rebound. Ward saved that one as well, but Fernando Pisani was following and this time, Ward couldn't stop it. Only 1:03 had expired.

The goal inspired the Oilers and the third-period action -- with the Oilers attacking and the Hurricanes counter-attacking -- was excellent.

But finally, Justin Williams put the puck into an empty net.

The Hurricanes were not to be denied.

The Cup is theirs.


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