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The Carolina Hurricanes will face a much different Edmonton Oilers team than they one they beat in June to bring the Stanley Cup to the Tar Heel state.
In a rematch of last season's thrilling seven-game finals series, the Oilers face off against the Hurricanes on Wednesday at Rexall Place in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.
Days after the Oilers' stunning rise from the eighth seed in the Western Conference to come within one game of winning its first championship since 1990, the breakup of the team began.
Citing personal reasons, defenseman Chris Pronger requested a trade days after the Game 7 loss and was dealt to Anaheim in July for right wing Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Ladislav Smid and three draft picks. Michael Peca and trading deadline pickup Sergei Samsonov left to sign as free agents with Toronto and Montreal, respectively.
But another trading deadline acquisition chose to stay. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson lost his first three starts after being acquired in early March from Minnesota, but finished 8-7-4 with the Oilers to get them in the playoffs.
After backstopping his new team to the finals, Roloson went down in the third period of Game 1 with an injured right knee, forcing the Oilers to use backups Jussi Markkanen and Ty Conklin the rest of the series.
Conklin misplayed a puck in the final minute of regulation in Game 1 that led to Rod Brind'Amour's goal, giving the Hurricanes a 5-4 win. Brind'Amour led Carolina with 12 playoff goals, including four game-winners.
Roloson, who's expected to start this game, will be trying to end a recent stretch of poor play at home. He's 0-2-1 with a 5.45 goals-against average in his last three starts at Rexall Place, and has been pulled early in his last two appearances.
The Oilers are hoping Roloson can build off his best outing of the season after making 36 saves Monday in a 4-0 win over Vancouver.
"I don't really worry about the last two games. You can't control that. You've just got to look forward and give your guys a chance to win the next day," said Roloson, who has two shutouts this season and 20 for his career.
Injuries to two of its top three forwards also have plagued Edmonton (14-10-2) recently. Ryan Smyth is out indefinitely with a broken thumb and Ales Hemsky has a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him until mid-December.
Smyth leads Edmonton with 16 goals scored and is second with 22 points, while Hemsky is second with 14 assists and third with 18 points.
Despite the roster turnover and injuries, Edmonton is tied with Minnesota atop the Northwest with 30 points.
"It's been something that for the many years I've been here we always seem to find a way to battle through situations like that and when we needed a big win to find it," Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff said.
Carolina (15-11-3) opened its four-game road trip against Northwest Division opponents Tuesday with a 3-0 loss at Calgary. Backup goaltender John Grahame allowed a goal to Daymond Langkow 28 seconds into the game, providing the Flames all the offense they would need.
"Anytime you give up a goal that early, it kind of gives them the momentum," Grahame said. "They kind of had it for the first part of the game."
It was the fourth time the Hurricanes have been shut out this season after being blanked three times all last season.
Cam Ward, who became the fourth rookie netminder to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, should start this game. Ward, a native of Edmonton, went 15-8 with a 2.14 GAA in the postseason, but is just 1-2 with a 2.35 GAA at Rexall Place.
This season, Ward is 6-2-0 with a 2.64 GAA in his last eight games, but has lost his last two road starts.
The 'Canes, who are making their first regular-season appearance in Edmonton since December 2003, will complete their road swing with games against Vancouver on Friday and Colorado on Monday.
|Dec 06 '06||CAR 1 at EDM 3||J. Smith|