FEATURE: Oilers making most of opportunity
Chris Pronger has been the best player on either team
On Tuesday night and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Edmonton Oilers made a statement in proving they belonged in this series.
Few gave the club a chance to take the series to six or seven games and fewer still picked the underdog to ultimately prevail. But with a win Thursday night, the Oilers would take a commanding three-games-to-one series lead over the leagues best regular season squad, the Detroit Red Wings.
"I dont think we never thought we could beat them at any point. Going in we knew we matched up well against them, we knew we could beat them. It was a matter of executing our game plan," said Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger Wednesday on a much-deserved day off.
How big would a win be Thursday? It would force Detroit to win it in seven games. Of the 22 times the first seed has played the eighth seed since the NHL switched to the conference playoff format in 1994, three times has one played eight in a Game 7 and all three times, the eighth seed prevailed.
However, the eighth seed has only won six of those 22 meetings which shows how improbable a position the Oilers are in right now.
"Weve got to be even more prepared and focused for Game 4 because of how important the game is and the implications of the game," Pronger, who logged 47:17 of ice-time stated. "They can even up the series or we can go up 3-1."
Chris Pronger has certainly been one of the biggest difference makers for Edmonton. In three games, he leads the team with four points, has a +3 rating and despite being a strong physical presence, zero penalty minutes.
"Its nice to have the best player in a series," noted head coach Craig MacTavish. "Its something that couldnt be said about the Edmonton Oilers in the past few seasons."
The Red Wings will certainly come with their best game yet on Thursday as they try to avoid heading home with a two-game deficit but the Oilers will be prepared.
"Their road record speaks for itself. The experience they have in the room, they can read the landscape and importance of getting the series back 2-2," said MacTavish. "I dont know that we played our best game last night but I think were going to have to be a little better than that. The expectation is we have improvement to make."
The one advantage Edmonton will have is the longer the game goes with the Oilers ahead or even, the tighter the Wings will be gripping their sticks with visions of 2003 vs. Anaheim or 2004 vs. Calgary dancing in their heads.
"Theres no pressure on us, were just going out playing our game and working hard," Jarret Stoll remarked.
Thats not to say the Oilers are taking things lightly. Marc-Andre Bergeron noted that all the hard work from Game 2 and Game 3 could potentially be erased with a loss Thursday night.
"If we lose tomorrow night, its back to square one," he stated.
That said, the next step for Edmonton in their development as a team has to be seizing opportunity when it presents itself.
"Its not four wins but it gives us a good stranglehold on the series," said Pronger. "Thats where good teams have that killer instinct to finish off their opponent."