EDMONTON - Looking better and better as each game passes, the Edmonton Oil Kings are now in the driver's seat.
Five different goal-scorers -- Martin Gernat, Henrik Samuelsson, Travis Ewanyk, Michael St. Croix and Curtis Lazar -- vaulted the Oil Kings to a 5-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen on Friday night at Rexall Place.
Edmonton is now in possession of a 3-2 series lead in the WHL Eastern Conference Championship and can eliminate Calgary in Game 6 on Sunday (4:00 p.m.) at Scotiabank Saddledome.
"It was a good win for us," said Head Coach Derek Laxdal. "We still have a lot of work to do, but give the guys credit for stepping up. It's been a great battle this series and we've got to be ready to go on Sunday."
Gernat got the scoring started at 7:38, making it a 1-0 game with his League-leading (among defencemen) sixth goal and 15th point of the post-season. Collecting a loose puck at the far faceoff circle, Dylan Wruck centered a pass off Viktor Rask and into the sights of the Slovakian Sniper, who neatly shelved a backhand shot past Chris Driedger.
"You've got to get to Driedger early," said Laxdal, adding that the netminder came up with 35 saves on 39 Oil Kings shots. "He's a heck of a goaltender and he really settled down after allowing the three early goals. He made a lot of big saves for them, even though the score got a little out of hand."
With Calgary pressing for the equalizer, a redirected Peter Kosterman point shot found the stick of Rask at the doorstep. With an open net -- or so it seemed -- to shoot for, Laurent Brossoit pushed across and made an exceptional left pad save to preserve the lead.
Brossoit stopped 28 shots, including 14 in the third when Calgary put it all on the line.
"LB was outstanding again tonight," said Laxdal. "He gave us a chance to win and made some great saves in the third period."
"We saw it last year and we're seeing it again," added Ewanyk. "When he's on his game, that confidence shows across our lineup -- it's unbelievable. Just look at the saves he's making when he's going post-to-post. We all build on that.
"We know we just need to get a couple early ones because he's going to be there for us."
The Oil Kings had a chance to extend their lead with a power-play chance at 13:37. Ewanyk and Edgars Kulda each came close, but Driedger shut the door.
It was a short-lived reprieve, however, as the 11,088 in attendance erupted soon after.
Samuelsson and Ewanyk scored 44 seconds apart late in the period, giving the home side a commanding three nil lead after one.
Spotting Samuelsson alone in the slot, Stephane Legault's pass connected and the Phoenix Coyotes draft pick made no mistake, gunning a wrist shot past the sprawling Hitmen netminder at 18:13.
On the Oil Kings' next shot, the club scored one of the prettiest goals of the season -- at any level.
A 60-foot, seeing-eye backhand pass by Wruck found the stick of Ashton Sautner on the near side. One-touching it back across an equal distance, Ewanyk roofed a one-timer past Driedger from an impossible angle to extend the lead.
"I don't score too many pretty ones," laughed the Oilers prospect, "but I'll take it. Sautner made an unbelievable pass and I just had to go the net. It was a great play all around."
The Oil Kings poured 17 shots on Driedger after one period.
With just two shots to speak of 13 minutes into the second, the Hitmen decided to get chippy. Josh Thrower leapt into a late hit on Curtis Lazar, targeting the head after the whistle.
In response, Samuelsson wasted little time by shedding the mitts and dishing haymakers in a spirited bout with the offender. Samuelsson picked up the extra penalties (a minor and 10-minute misconduct) for instigating, but the Oil Kings rallied and easily killed off the ensuing Hitmen power-play.
"I looked over and it looked like he got hit pretty bad," said Samuelsson. "I don't usually like to fight, but I felt that it was a pretty blatant hit to the head and I had to step in there.
"Discipline is something we've been harping on this whole series and that's what's going to help us win it."
The Oil Kings outshot the Hitmen 14-4 in a one-sided middle frame.
St. Croix put the Oil Kings up 4-0 at 13:27, promptly depositing a pretty behind-the-net feed from Kulda and sailing a wrister over Driedger's left shoulder.
Putting it all on the line (and why not?) the Hitmen pulled Driedger with a little more than six minutes to play. With Oilers prospect David Musil serving a hooking minor, Calgary got on the board as Brooks Macek beat Brossoit to make it a 4-1 game.
But it wasn't nearly enough. Thirty-nine seconds later, Lazar tallied into the empty net to seal a 5-1 victory and the send the series back to the Stampede City with the Hitmen on the brink of elimination.
"It's going to be a battle on Sunday, so get your tickets," said Laxdal.
OIL SPILLS: Defenceman Cody Corbett made his return to the lineup after suffering a knee injury at the hands of Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen in Game 2 (Virtanen also draw back into the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for the hit). Stephen Shmoorkoff was relegated back to the press box as a result. ... Trevor Cheek left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Head Coach Derek Laxdal expects him to be available for Game 6. ... The crowd of 11,088 was the largest crowd of the WHL playoffs.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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