EDMONTON - The Calgary Hitmen looked more like the Charlestown Chiefs than a team challenging for the Eastern Conference title Friday night.
Trailing 2-0 late in the third period, a barrage of undisciplined penalties and Slap Shot-style cheap shots turned a close game into a blowout.
Indeed, there was a hockey game to be decided -- a rather important one -- and Oilers prospect Martin Gernat was instrumental in the Game 2 victory. Collecting two goals and two asissts, Gernat and the Edmonton Oil Kings throttled the visiting Hitmen 6-0 on home ice.
It was the kind of game that could cost Calgary the series.
With less than three minutes to play, a dangerous, senseless hit by Pavlo Padakin on Oil Kings defenceman Ashton Sautner caused all hell to break loose. In reponse, Oilers prospects Mitch Moroz and Travis Ewanyk went back the other way, dropped their mitts and challenged anyone who dared.
Those who didn't felt their wrath anyway.
"Just trying to protect our guys," said an out-of-breath Moroz post-game at Rexall Place. "It was a dirty hit and that's what I'm here to do. Even if it's a 5-on-3 for us, Trav (Ewanyk) and I are going to take liberties and protect our guys."
Fuming at what had transpired, Moroz nearly chased a number of Hitmen players down the Zamboni tunnel as they were being ushered to the dressing room.
Through two periods, the Oil Kings had failed to convert on nine separate power-play chances. But when the chips were down and the club needed it the most, the Hitmen paid for their earlier transgressions.
"When there are a lot of penalties, emotions are going to run high like that," said Moroz. "They were taking exception and they lost control a little bit. That's what happens. We did well to bury them on the power-play.
When all was said and done, Edmonton went 3-for-14 with the man-advantage.
"We know they're trying to get under our skin and we're not going to give them that energy. We're focusing on doing the things that make us successful and we have no interest in them trying to get us off our game. They came unglued, for sure. We took advantage and that says a lot about us and our composure."
"I liked our composure," added Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "Our emotions were controlling us a little bit in the second period and we settled down in the third. Guys have to step up for their teammates and that's a good thing. We didn't do anything drastic."
Henrik Samuelsson, Curtis Lazar, Sautner and Trevor Cheek scored the other goals for the Oil Kings, while Laurent Brossoit made 23 saves in the win, posting his fourth shutout of the post-season.
"Our goal was to play well and get the series back to Calgary even," said Laxdal. "It was a good response after last night's disappointing loss. For the guys to rebound tonight and get a win was crucial."
While Calgary got the ball rolling with a quick goal on Thursday night, it was the Oil Kings who cashed early in Game 2, netting the icebreaker at 6:13 of the opening frame.
Galloping up on the rush as the Hitmen backed in, Gernat delivered a diagonal slap pass down to the doorstep, connecting with Samuelsson for his eighth goal of the post-season.
Samuelsson added a pair of assists late in the game, giving him 15 points so far in the playoffs.
Penalties to Calder Brooks and Brady Brassart gave the Oil Kings a chance to extend their lead with a brief 5-on-3 midway through the period, but nothing of consequence was generated.
At 14:49, bad blood continued to boil as a number of infractions were assessed after a chippy skirmish near the Oil Kings bench. In response to Cody Sylvester's cheap shot on Brossoit, Cody Corbett and captain Griffin Reinhart were sent off to serve separate minor penalties.
On the ensuing (and lengthy) two-man advantage due to an earlier call on Stephane Legault, Brossoit stood tall to preserve his team's 1-0 lead.
In total, 14 minor penalties for eight power-plays were called in the opening 20.
The parade to the penalty box continued in the second period as Brooks Macek and Calder Brooks were sent off early but, once again, the power-play came up empty.
"Calgary came out with a bit of a pressured forecheck and we got pretty sloppy with our breakouts and our outlet passes," said Laxdal, adding that he wasn't particularly pleased with the power-play's ineffectiveness in Periods 1 and 2. "I thought the execution wasn't nearly as high as it should have been. But as the game went on, we made some changes and decided to keep it more simple. It paid off for us."
Calgary's Jake Virtanen was assessed a kneeing major and game misconduct at 5:43. Corbett was the recipient of the hit and did not return to the game.
First stopping Cody Sylvester on a shorthanded breakaway and then mishandling a 200-foot clearing attempt, nearly having it slide out of reach and across the line behind him, Brossoit was the busiest man on the ice throughout the extended power-play.
That was the case, once again, late in the period as Macek took another trip to the sin bin.
While he'd only been tested with 16 Hitmen shots after 40 minutes, Brossoit came up huge early in the third, robbing Brassart on a breakaway as the veteran pivot deked to his backhand.
The power-play was bound to come up with a goal eventually, right? At 8:55 and with Spencer Humphries serving a slashing minor, Gernat wired a slap shot past Driedger to put the Oil Kings up by two.
Gernat did it again (and again on the power-play) late in the game, this time with a wrist shot, giving the home side a 3-0 lead as the Hitmen unraveled.
"The guys helped me a lot," said Gernat. I didn't start the game very well, but I put it behind me and played my game. I wanted to rebound and do everything I could for my team and when we work together and help each other like that, we're a great group.
"That showed in the result tonight."
Another penalty to Humphries, a slashing minor to Chase Clayton, 10-minute misconducts and everything in between kept the timekeepers busy. On Edmonton's 13th power-play of the night, Lazar netted another to make it a rout, chasing Driedger from the crease.
Justice was served moments after Padakin's cheap shot, as Sautner blasted the Oil Kings' 39th shot past Mack Shields to make it a 5-0 game.
Former Hitmen Trevor Cheek went end-to-end late in the game and beat Shields with a slick, forehand-backhand deke to put the Oil Kings up 6-0 on their 50th shot with 10 seconds to play.
Games 3 and 4 will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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