Johnson: Hitmen response decisive, now we await the Oil Kings’ attempt to get up off the mat
Calgary bounces back in a big way from 6-0 loss in Game 2, but Edmonton WHL squad feels it, too, will recover
Now it’s their turn to bounce right back up, Booiiiing!, like one of those vinyl kiddies’ floor punching bags.
Now is the moment for that championship pedigree to tell.
Now it’s up to Edmonton Oil Kings to get out their own glue pot and piece together the shattered shards of a night gone horribly wrong. And there’s not much time for the adhesive to solidify and set. By 7 p.m. tonight. No later.
“We definitely haven’t shown our best,” said goaltender Laurent Brossoit with flat certainty. “Or close to our best. They’ve taken advantage of that and that’s why they’re up in the series.”
“We’re waiting for something to happen,” blurted a mystified Curtis Lazar, “and we really don’t know what we’re waiting for.”
Best not be waiting for Game 5 back up at Rexall Place on Friday. If so, they may find themselves waiting all summer.
Responding to that penalty-crammed 6-0 caning on Friday up north, the underdog Calgary Hitmen strode out and confidently snatched back the lead in this Eastern Conference final, 2-1, watching the 108-point, 51-regular-season-win Oil Kings collapse under the strain of their own virulent strain of juvenile delinquency, to the tune of 5-2.
Friday, the Hitmen coughed up an astonishing 14 power play chances.
Monday, the Oil Kings handed Calgary eight.
“We saw a bunch of powerplays and penalty kills in Games 1 and 2,” sighed Lazar. “So we knew what to expect tonight and it still got the better of us.
“We got a taste of our own medicine, I guess you could say. It did haunt us tonight.”
The Hitmen chased a beleaguered Brossoit from the net through a sadistically one-sided second period in which they flipped the game on its head, going from a goal down to four up.
“When you take penalties and put yourself behind the 8-ball, that’s what’s going to happen to you,” grumbled Oil Kings’ coach Derek Laxdal. “We talk about discipline, we preach discipline and some guys just don’t get the message. Against a good hockey club like that, they’re going to sting you.
“Calgary was the better team tonight. They had their legs, they battled harder. We won the third period but that’s nothing because the game is already done.”
The Calgary uprising certainly didn’t take long to take shape, 26 seconds into the middle period to be precise, captain Cody Sylvester slipping a short pass ahead to a bustling Greg Chase, in space between the Oil King defence pair of David Musil and Trevor Cheek.
A two-hander from Musil actually sent Chase’s chance awry, and a referee’s hand shot up for a delayed penalty, but the puck kept sliding, sliding, sliding and ... eventually slid all the way into the net, leaving a startled Brossoit to gaze pleadingly at the heavens.
From there, ALL Hitmen. In short, lethal bursts. Goals 2 and 3 in a 40-second span. Goals 4 and 5 in 29.
The last two, a Calder Brooks poison-dart that fizzed over Brossoit’s catching glove, and a Victor Rask shot from 10 or so feet out as the Oil Kings’ defensive coverage displayed all the animation of a Madame Tussaud’s wax tableux, spelled the end of the Calgary Flames’ draft pick’s evening.
Five allowed on 25 shots in 33:15 of official time. Not that any of his mates really had his back (or his front, either, for that matter). So enter backup Tristan Jarry. And to the delight of a Scotiabank Saddledome crowd of 8,000-plus he promptly executes a Chevy Chase-like pratfall behind his own net.
Yeah, it was that kinda night.
“We’ve got a whole lot more to give,” promised assistant captain Keegan Lowe. “Everybody knows that. We’ve got to forget about the frustration. The only way we’re going to forget about frustration is to come out of a game knowing that we gave it all we’ve got and played the type of hockey we know we can play. And we haven’t done that yet this series.
“During our good points in the season we were coming out flying every game and teams we were playing were stopped in their tracks, like a deer in the headlights right at the start of games.
“We haven’t been doing that. We’re losing battles. We’re second to pucks.”
For Laxdal, focusing on the task at hand, and not being caught up in all the extracurricular shenanigans is going to be key in Game 4.
“I find our guys, this group of kids that we have, is getting focused on too much stuff after the whistle. And we talked about how much energy that zaps out of you. If you can focus your energy whistle to whistle, I’ll tell you what, the game’s a lot easier.”
This is really the first adversity the Oil Kings have faced this spring. And playoff success is all about response.
The Hitmen only took a lead Tuesday.
Tonight, they can take control. And that is a vastly different beast, from both points of view.
“Our guys gotta be ready to play,” challenged Laxdal. “They can’t be selfish and take stupid penalties and they’ve got to stay out of the box.
“This game’s in the books. You can’t hang your heads. It’s playoff hockey. We’ve got to dig down and reflect on a little of our past playoff experience.
“You know what? Playoffs aren’t easy. They’re hard. You’ve got to battle and you’ve got to sacrifice.
“I don’t think we’re sacrificing enough right now.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of (tonight).”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org
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