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Monday, June 19, 2006
Updated: June 20, 5:20 PM ET
Oilers' power play comes up short again

By Lindsay Berra
ESPN The Magazine

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Five-for-46.

Eleven percent.

That's a slump, in any sport, any way you slice it. And it was the state of the Oilers' power play in the Stanley Cup finals.

Through the first four games, they were 1-for-25. In Game 5 in Carolina, Oilers forward Ales Hemsky broke the drought, scoring on the power play in the first period. The Oilers won that game 4-3. In Game 6 in Edmonton, it appeared the Oilers had shaken the hex for good, getting power-play tallies from Fernando Pisani, Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff to go 3-for-9 in the game. That night, the Oilers routed the Canes 4-0.

But on Monday night in Game 7, the game that mattered most, the Oilers' power play once again faltered, going 0-for-4 on the biggest night of the year. The game's most pivotal minute, and it was just that -- 60 seconds -- was a 5-on-3 power play that the Oilers failed to convert on at the tail end of the second period. Carolina defenseman Niclas Wallin went into the box at 16:16 for hooking. Aaron Ward followed five seconds later, after shooting a puck over the glass in the defensive end for a delay of game penalty. The Oilers, down 2-0, were looking at a two-man advantage for one minute, 56 seconds, with two of Carolina's best defensemen in the penalty box. Opportunity was knocking.

For an entire minute, the Oilers kept the puck in Carolina's zone. But Canes center Rod Brind'Amour won a draw and defenseman Glen Wesley blocked a shot, and only one scoring chance -- a relatively harmless 25-foot snap shot by Oilers sniper Pisani -- had to be handled by Carolina goaltender Cam Ward. Then, with 56 seconds left on the power play, at 17:21 of the period, Smyth took a hooking penalty to prevent Carolina from clearing the puck out of the zone. The two-man advantage -- and the Oilers' best chance -- was over.

"That was big. We had to take that penalty to try and get the puck back, and that killed it," Oilers center Jarret Stoll said. "There were a bunch of 5-on-3s that we didn't score on. There are certain chances that we have to bury, and we didn't do it."

In the first period of Game 4, the Oilers squandered a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity that lasted more than a minute. It was their fourth such squandered opportunity in four games. They lost the game 2-1.

"We had 5-on-3s on which we failed to connect," Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish said. "That ended up being certainly one of the contributing, if not one of the main factors, why we didn't win it. When you get to this level, you can't leave one on the table."

A misty-eyed Chris Pronger, on the ice for more power-play time than any other Oilers player in this series (4:36 of seven total minutes in Game 7), felt the same way.

"We struggled on 5-on-3 through a lot of the playoffs, and certainly tonight, that's a goal we needed to get. They got a power-play goal and we didn't, and that's the story of the game," he said.

And, unfortunately for the Oilers, the story of the series.

Lindsay Berra is a writer for ESPN The Magazine.