Sunday, May 11, 2014

Game Six: The Collapse

In all honesty, could anyone have truly seen this one coming? After building a three goal cushion through two periods of play, the Edmonton Oil Kings were a mere twenty minutes away from clinching their second Western Hockey League crown in three years. Unfortunately for them and the 11,902 in attendance at Rexall Place for Game Six of the WHL Final, the Portland Winterhawks had no intention of rolling over and simply handing over their crown. 

On the strength of five goal performance from their backend, including a three goal third period outburst, the defending champs came all the way back from looked to be certain defeat, earning an eye-popping 6-5 overtime victory to force Game Seven on Monday evening in Portland, Oregon. 

While defencemen Mathew Dumba and Derrick Pouliot did much of the damage on the scoreboard, combining for three goals and five points on the night, it was forward Keegan Iverson who played the role of hero, scoring the game-winner at the 7:23 mark of OT, on a sequence Oil Kings netminder Tristan Jarry would love to have back. 

Be it recognizing the moment and simply going out and grabbing the opportunity or feeding off what was an extremely boisterous crowd on Mother’s Day over at Rexall Place, Derek Lexdal’s crew were all business from the drop of the puck. Despite handing Portland an early chance on the man advantage, the Oil Kings weathered the storm and promptly scored on a power play of their own, as Henrik Samuelsson continued on his goal-scoring ways with his fifth of the series, knocking in a loose puck past Corbin Boes at the 4:48 mark. 

The early goal not only sent Rexall into an all-out frenzy but also helped the team in white take their game up another gear. Samuelsson would snap home his second of the period just over a minute and a half later, after Mitch Moroz forced a turnover along the sideboards to free up the first round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes for a wide open look and the twenty year old made no mistake. 

Despite what the shot clock may have said, Edmonton was in complete control. They swarmed Mike Johnston’s side all over the ice and had the crowd jumping all period long. Whenever there was a breakdown, Jarry stood tall and Edgars Kulda would make it a period from hell for the Winterhawks, as his long ranged shot found its way through a maze of players and in behind Boes to make it 3-0 for the Eastern Conference champs with less only seconds remaining in the frame. 

That goal would put an end to Boes run in between the pipes, as former #1 Brendan Burke took over to start period two, seeing his first action since being pulled during Game Two against the Kelowna Rockets during the Western Conference Finals. The swap seemed to give Portland a spark, as they started to carry the play and goals from Dumba and fellow blueliner Anton Cederholm cut the Oil Kings lead down to one with 6:48 to play in the frame. 

While you could feel the momentum starting to swing, it took Curtis Lazar all of forty-five seconds to push the lead back to two and Kulda another forty-nine seconds to restore the Oil Kings three goal cushion and send Rexall into hysterics one more time. In a blink-of-an-eye, Edmonton erased all of Portland’s hard work and in the process…put what appeared to be that final stake through the heart of the defending champs or at least that is how it seemed. 

Give Portland credit, they would not go quietly as Dumba scored his second on the afternoon on an early third period power play, courtesy of an ill-advised penalty by Moroz, which was promptly followed up by Keoni Texeira’s second of the post-season and suddenly the lead was back down to one. From that point on, it was just a matter of time. As the Oil Kings were tightening the grips on their sticks, Portland started to come in waves. 

They would complete the comeback with 8:46 to go as Derrick Pouliot made it five out of five for the Winterhawks backend, as the visitors were back on level terms and in complete control. The Oil Kings managed to survive long enough to get to overtime but after exchanging a handful of chances early on, Iverson would deliver the stake into the Oil Kings collective hearts and force this year’s Championship Series to the limit. 

As disappointing as losing that game had to have been, one can’t help but think it is almost seems fitting that the third and final round of this now yearly head-to-head battle goes the distance. It will all come down to tomorrow night and while the Portland Winterhawks will mostly certainly be favoured to find a way to get it done on home ice in a winner take all scenario, especially after winning Game Six in the fashion they just did. 

That said, counting the Edmonton Oil Kings out would be a big mistake. It won’t be easy but when it comes to a Game Seven…all bets are off. 

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