Monday, January 14, 2013

Oil Kings reclaim top spot in the Eastern Conference with weekend sweep

On the strength of back-to-back stellar performances from netminder Laurent Brossoit and another three goal effort from forward Curtis Lazar, the Edmonton Oil Kings made it a clean sweep of their three game weekend set, with wins in both Saskatoon and Medicine Hat.

After starting off the three game in three night stretch with a 4-0 shutout victory on Rexall Place ice against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the defending WHL champs turned to their star goaltender, to play the role of hero against the Blades.

While second period goals from Brandon Baddock and Keegan Lowe paced the Oil Kings to a two goal lead after forty minutes of play, much of that was due to the play of their netminder. Brossoit was simply unbeatable, turning aside one Saskatoon attack after another, to keep Edmonton out in front.

Josh Nicholls managed to finally beat the Oil Kings starter midway through the third, tipping home his league leading thirtieth of the year, but that would be as close as they would get. As Brossoit shut the door the rest of the way, stopping thirty-four shots on the night and out dueling Team Russia netminder Andrey Makarov.

Edmonton were hoping to finish off their hectic weekend in style, trying for their fourth consecutive victory over the Tigers this season. Unfortunately for Medicine Hat, it did not take Curtis Lazar long to make his mark in this one, beating Cam Lanigan high on the stick side, all of thirty-two seconds after the drop of the puck.

It was all Oil Kings in the opening ten minutes of action but they were unable to extend their lead, before running into penalty trouble. Three consecutive minor penalties allowed the Tigers to turn the tide and carry the play the rest of the period but like the Blades twenty-four hours earlier, they were unable to get one past the red hot tender.

Lazar would extend the lead to a pair with an early power play marker in the second, beating Lanigan with a nifty little backhand on the short side, after blowing by two Medicine Hat defenders. The two goal cushion was just what Derek Laxadal's crew were after..

As the two sides continued to exchange chances throughout the first twelve minutes of action in period, Mitch Moroz was whistled down for interference but before the Oil Kings would touch the puck to end the play, defenceman  Stephen Shmoorkoff delivered as good an open ice hit as you will ever see.

Shmoorkoff absolutely annihilated Boston Leier with what was arguably the hit of the year and not surprisingly, the hit caused a bit of a pileup. After all the dust had settled, Edmonton somehow found themselves down two man, for an entire two minutes. Not a problem.

All that did, was give the Western Hockey League's best penalty killing crew another opportunity to strut their stuff. Despite clanking one off the iron, the Tigers still could not find a way to get one behind Brossoit, as the Edmonton puckstopper was in a zone.

It would be more of the same in period three, as the sixth round pick of the Calgary Flames continued his torrid run in front of the Oil Kings cage, while Lazar would slide home his third of the night, into an empty net. It marked the second time this season the B.C. native has recorded a hat-trick and leaves him just one goal shy of his career high of twenty, which he produced during the 2011-2012 campaign.

For Brossoit, he improved to 19-5-2-3 on the year and has gone 5-1 with a 1.00 GAA, an unconscious .969 SV% and his first two shutouts of the season, since being cut from the Team Canada World Junior camp in mid-to-late December. You think Hockey Canada might be regretting that decision right about now?

The win pushed the Oil Kings back into top spot in the Eastern Conference, one point clear of their division rivals, the Calgary Hitmen. The Hitmen have posted an impressive 30-11-1-3 mark in forty five games this season but still find themselves a single point back of Edmonton's 30-9-2-3 record, with the Oil Kings still holding a game in hand.

After their grueling three day run, Edmonton will head home for a couple of days of well earned rest, before making their way down to Red Deer, for a Thursday night tilt with the Rebels. They will than return home for a pair of weekend games, a return engagement against these same Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday night at Rexall Place. The other will go on Sunday afternoon, as the Oil Kings host the Prince George Cougars.

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