The way the Edmonton Oilers lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes Monday night was a great illustration of why trying to make predictions about sports is nothing more than a foolish pastime.
Late in the second period, the Oilers were in complete command, leading 3-0, controlling play and looking like they were about to snatch home-ice advantage away.
An hour and a half later they had lost the game 5-4 after turning the puck over inches away from an empty net in the final minute of regulation, and they had also lost Dwayne Roloson, the goalie who has carried them this far, for the rest of the series.
An hour and a half. Anybody picking Edmonton now?
Opening the series on the road after a week off, the Oilers showed none of the rust or jitters that might have afflicted them, instead carrying the action throughout the first two periods. Carolina was in fighting trim after a seven-game series win over the Buffalo Sabres, but rested after two off days.
And the Hurricanes looked, well, rusty and jittery. They took a series of bad penalties in the last third of the period, first interrupting their own power play after 34 seconds with a tripping call on Bret Hedican, then nine seconds later -- nine! -- going down a man on another trip, by Niclas Wallin.
They killed off the 1:17 4-on-3 and then went to work on a 34-second 5-on-3. They had killed 21 seconds off of that when they took another penalty, a hook by Rod Brind'Amour. Committing a penalty when you're already down two men, extending both the two-man advantage and the 5-on-4 power play: This normally isn't a formula for winning the Stanley Cup.
But Carolina killed off the remaining 13 seconds of the first penalty -- though since it still left a 5-on-3 Hedican had to stay in the box till the next whistle -- then the last nine seconds of the second penalty, and then another 1:38 of 5-on-4. When it was all over, the Hurricanes, 43 seconds after going on a power play, had spent 3:18 down at least one man, and 43 seconds of that down two.
They were lucky to get out of the first period trailing only 1-0, though their interior defense and shot blocking and goalie Cam Ward should get some credit too.
In the second period, it got worse, even though the Hurricanes looked a little more solid in the early minutes. The Oilers scored twice, the first on a rare penalty-shot call of a defensive player who isn't the goalie closing his hand on the puck in the goal crease.
Wallin, on his hands and knees during a wild scramble, covered the puck with his hand and shoved it toward the corner. Referee Mick McGeough ruled that he'd closed his hand on it.
Chris Pronger beat Ward on a lightning-quick wrister for the first penalty-shot goal in Stanley Cup Finals history. The eight previous attempts had all been unsuccessful. Could have won a bar bet on that one.
Six minutes later, with 3:37 to go in the period, Ethan Moreau's wrist shot from just beyond the right circle looked like it was going wide right, but it boinked off Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward and ricocheted past Cam Ward for 3-0.
Since everyone likes comparing these things to heavyweight fights, this would have been the point when the Hurricanes' cornerman -- his name would have been Dutch -- sat him on his stool, said, "Kid, it's not your night," then turned around to the referee and shook his head.
But 54 seconds later Brind'Amour swatted home a huge rebound that Roloson had left on a slap shot by Justin Williams. And in the third period, Ray Whitney scored twice in the first 5:09 and Williams put Carolina ahead with a shorthanded breakaway goal.
Ales Hemsky tied it with a power-play goal at 13:31, and less than a minute later disaster struck. Oilers defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron pushed Andrew Ladd from behind as Ladd skated in on Roloson with the puck. Ladd barreled into Roloson, knocking him into and through the goal, which came off its moorings.
Roloson lay on the ice for several minutes. Replays showed his right leg bending unnaturally under him and Ladd. He was helped from the ice with an apparent knee injury. He's not expected back in the series.
His replacement, Ty Conklin, had appeared in 18 regular-season games and not a minute of playoff action. His ineffectiveness had helped lead to the Oilers dealing for Roloson at the trade deadline. With less than a minute to go, the game looking like it was headed for overtime, Conklin mishandled the puck behind the net on a seemingly innocent play.
He held it too long, then clanked it off the skates of Jason Smith, whom he was trying to pass to. The puck slid to the front, where Brind'Amour again beheld an empty net. With 32 seconds left, he didn't miss, and the Hurricanes had matched the biggest comeback in Finals history, winning after being down by three.
It all changes so quickly. Edmonton had been sailing along, up 3-0, dominating play, looking like they were about to get a leg up on this series. Now they're looking up at a big hill without their strongest leg to stand on.
Care to make a prediction now? Careful ...
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