Saturday, May 04, 2013

Oil Kings take series opener

A two goal night from Edmonton Oil Kings forward Henrik Samuelsson, coupled with thirty-five stops from netminder Laurent Brossoit, proved to be far too much for Seth Jones and the Portland Winterhawks to overcome in the opener of the Western Hockey League Championship Final. The 4-1 victory allowed the Oil Kings to not only draw first blood in the series but also saw them wrestle away home-ice advantage from the Winterhawks.

Curtis Lazar and Dylan Wruck were Edmonton's other two goal scorers, while Stephane Legault capped off a brilliant performance with a  three point night. While the defending champs were on their heels for much of the opening twenty minutes, they managed to right the ship over the final two periods, taking full advantage of  less than stellar effort from Portland starter Mac Carruth.

It looked to be men against boys from the drop of the puck, as the Winterhawks sent in wave after wave but were unable to solve Brossoit. The Oil Kings puckstopper stopped all sixteen shots fired his way in period one, including couple of huge saves off Ty Rattie late in the frame.

Edmonton did manage to open the scoring just over two minutes in, as Dylan Wruck flipped home a loose puck behind Carruth, after Travis Ewanyk drove to the net and simply through a pass out front, that found its way over to Wruck. Portland had Edmonton pinned in their zone for almost the entire two minutes but were unable to cash in on any of their opportunities.

The Winterhawks appeared to have tied it up with 8:09 remaining in the opening stanza, as Brendan Leipsic finished off an absolutely gorgeous three way passing play, courtesy of a Cody Corbett blunder at the Portland blueline. Luckily for the Oil Kings, the goal was waived off, as the WHL's leading point getter directed the puck into the yawning cage with his skate.

It was a tough break for the Western Conference champs but it was the right call. Though the 10,097 in attendance would tell you otherwise. Brossoir held the fort the rest of the way and Edmonton went to the intermission with their lead still intact.

They would extend that lead midway through the second, as Henrik Samuelsson beat Carruth with a quick shot, for his tenth of the post-season. Legault did all the dirty work, knocking down defenceman Troy Rutkowski's poor clearing attempt at the blueline, before feeding the first round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes for a wide open look.

After looking almost over-matched during the first twenty-five minutes of action, Edmonton settled down and played one helluva a road game the rest of the way. Brossoit was called upon to make a couple of more crucial stops but the steady stream of Grade A chances were a thing of the past.

Portland did finally get one behind the Oil Kings starter early in the third, as Taylor Leier banged home a rebound for his eighth of the playoffs, making it a 2-1 game with exactly seventeen minutes left to play. However, Edmonton would restore their two goal cushion, all of forty-seven seconds later.

It would once again be the duo of Legault and Samuelsson who would strike for the visitors, as the second year Oil King snapped home his eleventh, on somewhat of a broken play. While the Carruth was partially screened on the shot, he looked ill- prepared to deal with Samuelsson's quick release.

Lazar would closeout the scoring with his ninth of the post-season, as he simply outworked Jones in front of the Portland net, grabbing a rebound off the backboards and chipping it up and over a beleaguered Carruth, to make it a 4-1 game and silence the Rose Garden crowd once and for all.

While Derek Laxdal's crew did not have their "A" game from the outset, they more than deserved to walk away from the series opener with a one game lead. There is no question that Brossoit held them in it early but should we have really expected anything less from the reigning WHL Playoff MVP?

Edmonton weathered the storm and have now put all the pressure on the Winterhawks, in what will be a must-win situation on Saturday night, before the series shifts to the Alberta capital for games number three and four at Rexall Place.

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