The Edmonton Oil Kings host the Portland Winterhawks with the opportunity to close out the WHL final with a win on home ice. The prospects of winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup at home on Sunday afternoon would normally have teams pressing and making mistakes. However, the Oil Kings have the core leadership group that can keep the team in check in a huge game.
“These kids know exactly what they’re playing for,” head coach Derek Laxdal said. “You really don’t want to touch on it because they know exactly what’s going on and they can only go two ways. They can play a great game and get a win or we’re going back (to Portland) for game seven. That’s just the way it is. But I think our kids have faced enough adversity in this series where they know exactly what the prize at the end of the line is. They’re well prepared, they were energized (Saturday) on the bus, they’re focused and I know they’re excited to play in front of a big crowd here tomorrow night.”
“I just think the character in our dressing room will do that,” Henrik Samuelsson added. “We have a lot of character guys in our room that have been here and even guys that haven’t been here that know what it takes to win and I think we’ll be fine that way.”
One of those leaders is, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, Griffin Reinhart.
“His leadership and his play on the ice is outstanding,” Laxdal said. “Just his shutdown presence, he scored a big goal for us last night and he had a big play, a big turnover on Samuelsson’s goal. He’s been a big part offensively and defensively for our hockey club. We actually moved him up onto the first unit of our power play just because of his experience and his poise. He’s really come into his own here. I know he’s excited to play in the championship final here and he’s obviously doing a great job of leading this group of players.”
Even with all that leadership some of the players may find themselves gripping their sticks a little tighter and playing tired after a restless night sleep.
“I struggled to get some sleep last night,” Curtis Lazar said. “Maybe I am fighting a cold. But I think just the butterflies for getting on the ice tomorrow is also part of it.”
Through the opening rounds of the WHL playoffs and through battling back from down two games early in the championship series to take the 3-2 lead, the Edmonton Oil Kings have inched closer to their goal of taking back the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Oil Kings have grown as a team and as individuals throughout the process.
“When you go through the first three rounds you see the growth of your team but when you get into that championship series and you get into it going into game six, you really see the growth of some of your leadership guys on your team and then you see some growth of some of the younger kids you have coming through,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the experience of these kids going as far as they can in the playoffs and learning and experiencing through part of the challenges.”
|Photo courtesy of Stockton Thunder
The Bakersfield Condors came back from a 1-0 third-period deficit to defeat the Stockton Thunder 2-1 and now hold a 3-1 series lead.
After a scoreless first period, Stockton's Marc Canton tallied midway through the second to give the home side the advantage.
Bakersfield finally tied the game with 7:51 to go in the third after Jordan Knackstedt scored.
The game looked destined for overtime but Joel Broda tallied with 1:39 to play to make it a 2-1 final.
Oilers prospect Laurent Brossoit faced 30 shots, making 29 saves.
The Condors can wrap the series up on Saturday. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 will be back in Bakersfield on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
In the WHL final, the Portland Winterhawks and Edmonton Oil Kings are all tied up. They also both boast big home-ice advantages. Both teams are undefeated at home in the playoffs. The Winterhawks are 9-0-0-0 while the Oil Kings, after wins in games three and four, are 10-0-0-0.
That may end sometime sooner rather than later and the Oil Kings are hoping it is them who gets the first road win of the series.
“We’ve had a good home record all year,” Edmonton defenceman Griffin Reinhart said. “We won a lot of games in that building so we are pretty comfortable but we knew coming into this series that we’d have to win at least one on the road and our mindset going into this game is hopefully tonight.”
In order to do just that, the Oil Kings will try to keep up their pace on the penalty kill. They killed all three of their penalties in game four while getting a 26-save performance from Tristan Jarry in a 2-0 shutout. That’s quite the feat as it was the first time in 247 games the Winterhawks had been shutout. It’s even more impressive that, since game one, the Winterhawks have gone 0-for-11 on the power play. Portland ranks third overall in these playoffs, scoring at 23.6% on the man advantage.
Discipline was something the Oil Kings emphasized, ahead of tonight’s game five, both with turnovers and penalties.
“I think with the first two games, just the turnovers,” Griffin Reinhart said. We can’t continue doing that. They’re going to capitalize on our mistakes and they’ve been doing that the first two games. We’ve got to stick to our structure and play a disciplined game. They’re good on the power play and anytime they can explode, it’s never a safe lead so we’ve got to savour the discipline.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings have gotten a boost from their third line of Mads Eller, Riley Kieser and Luke Bertolucci and that’s help translate into wins for a team that started the series down two games to none. Edmonton has since tied their WHL final series with the Portland Winterhawks at 2-2 heading into a big game five tonight.
Although that third line hasn’t scored many goals, they’ve been contributing heavily on the penalty kill and in the face-off dot while providing energy. The head coach says he feels like it’s a matter of time before it becomes critical mass with that line contributing more on the score sheet.
“I think it’s very important to have that third line, they’re your energy guys,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “They’re going to score in the series. They’re getting close. Obviously, Bertolucci scored a huge goal for us in game three but Mads Eller, Riley Kieser, those kids score at the most opportune times just because they work so hard. Their contributions penalty-kill wise and Riley Kieser on face offs, has been outstanding. That’s a line that they kind of wear you down. They’re not flashy, they just have that great work ethic and they get pucks to the net and find ways to get goals and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up scoring a goal tonight for us.”
With the help of their third line, the Oil Kings have not allowed a power-play goal since game one. That was a 4-on-3 tally in the second period on May 3. Since then, Portland is 0-for-11 on the man advantage.
“I think we’re just trying to bring that energy,” Kieser said. “Every game we’re competing hard and trying to battle against their top lines and trying to be good in our own zone and that will reflect in the offensive zone. Just trying to get energy for our team and stuff like that.”
On the road, in a pivotal game five and with the series tied, secondary scoring from that line would really bring the energy for the already surging Oil Kings.
The Edmonton Oilers have signed draft pick Bogdan Yakimov, 19, to a three-year entry level contract. The Oilers selected Yakimov in the third round, 83rd overall, in last year’s draft.
Yakimov is 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 220 pounds. He spent this past season with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik in the KHL where he tallied 12 points (7-5-12) in 33 games.
The Oilers’ first-overall pick in 2012, Nail Yakupov, also played for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (2012-13).
|Photo courtesy of Stockton Thunder
The Bakersfield Condors dropped Game 3 of their best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series against the Stockton Thunder on Wednesday night by a score of 6-2.
The Condors actually opened the scoring in this one on a late first-period goal by Joel Broda.
Stockton replied with a pair of tallies in the second to take a 2-1 lead. Two early goals in the third made it 4-1.
It was 5-1 before the Condors would find the twine again, a Chase Schaber goal just past the 15-minute mark. The Thunder would add an empty netter to make it a 6-2 final.
Oilers prospect Laurent Brossoit faced 22 shots, making 17 saves. Despite allowing five goals, Brossoit still has a 1.69 goals-against average and .937 save percentage through eight games in these playoffs.
The next two games are also in Stockton this Friday and Saturday. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 will be back in Bakersfield on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
When the Edmonton Oil Kings came back from being down 2-0 early to eventually take game three of the WHL final by a score of 3-2, it showed quite the resiliency. With Portland seemingly on the attack, the Oil Kings didn’t backdown and eventually pushed back, controlling the pace of the second period and scoring three-unanswered goals in the game to beat Portland.
It was a surprise in last night’s post-game press conference when the players and coach said it was the backup goaltender who had an impact on the game, without even seeing one minute of ice time.
“What wasn’t he doing? I guess that’s the real question,” Curtis Lazar said of goaltender Tyler Santos. “Just to see what he’s been able to do this season in his role, he’s always out there, he doesn’t always get the ice time he deserves but he’s the emotional leader on the bench just keeping us positive, chirping the other team, getting that mental edge and having fun with it. It was really neat to see. He brought us all together but he also allowed us to relax and just have some fun out there.”
Santos has played just 13 games this season for Edmonton and none in the playoffs. But his presence was felt on the Oil Kings bench last night as Santos cheered on the team, provided motivation and energy to his teammates. This isn’t anything new for Santos, who head coach Derek Laxdal says has been a great teammate longer than just last night.
“I actually brought him in the other day, two days ago, and we just talked about how great of a teammate he’s been,” Laxdal said. “He hasn’t played a lot for us this year and he comes in the dressing room every morning, he’s positive, he’s ready to go and the practice that he puts in. He’s out there scrimmaging every day with the black aces and finding his way. Here’s a kid that’s been a great soldier for us and a great teammate, a positive vibe in our dressing room and he’s been great on our bench. It’s good to see him get a little bit of love last night from the guys.”
Being the backup can be a tough pill to swallow. Obviously you’d like to be on the ice and helping your teammates but Santos has found a different way to be involved and help the Oil Kings win games.
“It’s not an easy role being back up and not getting many touches,” Laxdal said. “Obviously the ride and the experience that he’s experiencing right now, I’m sure he’s enjoying it but you have to have that glue, you have to have that type of character in your dressing room and he’s been a big part of that.”
Over the course of these 2014 WHL playoffs, Oil Kings centre Curtis Lazar has traditionally played his best games in the opening contest of each series. In game ones this post-season, Lazar has seven points (2-5-7) in four games. This series has started off slow offensively for Lazar however, with him not recording a point until last night’s crucial game three win over Portland.
As the “heartbeat of the team,” according to his head coach, Lazar is an important piece for Edmonton as they look to knock off Portland. Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said last night after the win that Lazar is starting to look like himself.
“I had a chat with Curtis this morning and we just talked about his first two games,” Laxdal said last night. “When Curtis is playing well what does he do? Smiles. I said, get that smile back in your game. I thought he got that smile back tonight and with that comes the energy in Curtis’ game.”
Lazar says he’s feeling more comfortable.
“I’m gripping my stick a little less tight,” he said. “I’m just enjoying myself out there. It was a big game for us last night but also for myself, for my confidence standpoint. I was really happy with my play, I’m contributing in all ways and I’m looking to build off my performance last night.”
In a series like the final where it could wind up being a long and tough battle, having Lazar build momentum the deeper it goes could be huge for the Oil Kings. That doesn’t necessarily only mean point production for the centre.
“Momentum,” Lazar said. “It’s a scary thing in the playoffs and if I can continue to improve each and every game it’s going to really benefit our team. I key in on those little details and the statistics, the goals and assists are good and all but the blocked shots, the face offs and all other things too, I’m really keeping an eye on those stats as well.”
The Edmonton Oil Kings are undefeated on home ice in these 2014 WHL playoffs. Down 2-0 in their WHL finals series to Portland, the club is excited to be back home and have a chance to even up the series with game three tonight and game four tomorrow night in Edmonton.
“I’m excited to get going,” forward Curtis Lazar said. “Our fans have supported us all season. I mean, we’re comfortable here. We’re used to the environment, we’re used to the ice and I think we’re going to have a pretty good push back tonight.”
The Oil Kings are 8-0-0-0 in these playoffs at Rexall Place and have a comfort level associated with their pre-game routines in Edmonton.
“Kid’s are sleeping in their own beds, they get the chance to prepare the best way and they have that ritual of coming to the game tonight as they’ve done in all of the playoff games,” Oil Kings Head Coach Derek Laxdal said. “For us, it’s just a matter of we’ve got to focus on what we do and there’s some areas of the game that we can get better at, i.e. turnovers, i.e. bad penalties, more shots to the net, a little bit more intensity in our game and those are things that are easy to change. It’s just a mindset, sharpening up those little details of the game.”
“It’s definitely nice to be home,” added forward Mitch Moroz. “Both teams are better at home and they look forward to being on home ice. We’re hoping to take advantage of it and make a series of it and get the first one here at home.”