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Friday, June 9, 2006
Wesley, Hurricanes have knack for blocking shots

Associated Press

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Growing up, Glen Wesley got plenty of experience blocking shots. His two older brothers used to take him out in the backyard, stick him in front of a goal and fire tennis balls at him.

Little did he know how much that painful experience would pay off down the road.

During the Stanley Cup finals, Wesley has been like a second goalie in front of Carolina's Cam Ward, continually throwing his body in front of the puck before it gets to the rookie goalie.

In building a 2-0 series lead over Edmonton heading into Game 3 Saturday, the Hurricanes -- and Wesley in particular -- have shown an uncanny knack of getting in the way of shots without the benefit of oversized pads or the comforting protection of a mask.

Carolina's defensemen and forwards blocked 17 shots in the opener and 24 more in the second game, frustrating the Oilers and making things a lot easier on Ward. How much easier? The goalie's teammates nearly matched his 25 stops in a Game 2 shutout.

"You don't think about it hurting," said Wesley, who has a series-high nine blocks. "You just want to get your body in front of the shot."

Throwing your body in front of a puck is the ultimate team sacrifice for a non-goalie. Few people recognize how many times it's done -- most of the focus is on the number of saves by the guy in the nets -- and it's always a risk to put yourself in front of a blistering slapshot.

Just look at the price paid by Wesley in Game 1. During an Edmonton power play late in the first period, the defenseman took a shot off his right leg, stayed on the ice though he was clearly in pain, and got hit again in the same leg before he finally made it to the bench.

Wesley looked to be seriously injured as he was helped down the tunnel for treatment, but he was soon back on the ice, blocking even more shots.

"A big part of it is timing," he said. "If you don't time it right, you're going to look like a fool."

Wesley got his start when he was 9 or 10 years old.

"My brothers used to throw me in goal with no pads or nothing," he recalled. "Then they would fire tennis balls at me at probably 80 miles an hour."

Wesley isn't the only Carolina player willing to get in the way of the puck.

Center Doug Weight dropped back into the defensive zone to block four shots in Game 1, one shy of Wesley's team-leading total. Aaron Ward and Bret Hedican matched their fellow defenseman in Game 2 with four blocks apiece.

The Oilers are growing increasingly frustrated at their inability to get more shots on Ward, who became the first rookie goalie in 20 years to post a shutout in the Stanley Cup finals.

"You take it personal when you don't score," said Ryan Smyth, who led Edmonton is goals during the regular season but hasn't managed a point in the finals. "We've got to make sure we get the puck through. They've had a lot of blocked shots."

Fernando Pisani, who did score a goal in Game 1, knows the Oilers have to do a better job of disguising their intentions at the offensive end.

"Maybe we need to do a couple of fake pumps, fake the shot and step around them," he said. "The little things you do can make a big difference."

The Oilers better figure out something. If Carolina keeps knocking away shots before they ever get to Ward, Edmonton has little chance of rallying from a two-game deficit in the best-of-seven series.

"We've had a lot of good opportunities," Pisani said. "We're just not finishing them."