Oil Kings survive a wild third period to win 0
Edmonton Oil Kings' Griffin Reinhart celebrates with his teammate Curtis Lazar after he scored against the Shawinigan Cataractes during the third period of their round-robin Memorial Cup ice hockey game in Shawinigan, Quebec May 18, 2012. (Mathieu Belanger/REUTERS)
It's their party and they'll cry if they want to.
Fortunately, 5,000 broken hearted fans at Centre Bionest had those rally towels organizers handed out before the game to soak up their Shawinigan tears after the Edmonton Oil Kings crashed the Mastercard Memorial Cup with a gritty 4-3 triumph.
"Pretty exciting game to be a part of," said Edmonton captain Mark Pysyk, after the Kings survived a wild third period that saw the score go from 1-1 to 2-1 to 3-1 to 3-2 to 3-3 to 4-3 in 12 frantic minutes. "And I'm sure it was fun to watch, as well."
Well, maybe not so much for those red-eyed fans, but it looked pretty sweet from the Oil Kings bench. It wasn't Edmonton's best work by any stretch - play the same game against Portland in Game 7 of the WHL final and they're probably not here - but they found a way to get it done, in a hostile environment under serious pressure. So they're fine with opening night overall.
"We came here knowing it was going to be a tough tournament, but we also know that we have a lot more to give," said Edmonton goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who faced 33 shots in the win. "It wasn't our best game, but it's behind us and we won. And we were preaching before this started that the first game is huge. In a short tournament you need a good start."
At 1-0, they don't have to play the rest of the round-robin with a gun to their head.
Like Shawinigan does.
"There have been othe teams who've won this tournament who didn't win the first game," said Cataractes defenceman Morgan Ellis. "We have to go forward. We're going to be better."
Shawinigan, which had been idle since being eliminated from the QMJHL playoffs on April 17, came out like one would expect a Memorial Cup host playing its first game in a month would - hard and fast. They were all over Edmonton on the first shift, landing about six good hits in the opening 30 seconds.
Car accidents begin with more subtlety.
Edmonton weathered the storm by scoring first and taking a 1-1 tie into the first intermission.
"We've had these situations all year, so we know how to respond," said Henrik Samuelsson, who scored the game winner with 6:12 left in regulation. "We're used to large crowds and loud crowds."
After a scoreless second period, all hell broke loose in the third.
Griffin Reinhart scored at 1:01 and Martin Gernat made it 3-1 at 5:40. Given the horrible ice and the lack of anything resembling offence to that point, it looked like game over.
It wasn't. The Cats didn't get 97 points in the regular season by looking for a soft spot on the canvas when they get hit. They closed in, 3-2, at 6:37 and then squared it on ghastly giveaway by Keegan Lowe at 13:19.
A lot of teams might have become a little weak in the knees at that point, blowing a 3-1 third period lead on the road and on national TV, with the roof about to cave in around them from the noise.
The Oil Kings, on the other hand, scored 29 seconds later and closed the door for good.
"All year long our third period has been our best period," said Samuelsson. "So we just went out there and knew what we could do."
And did it.
"You have to give our guys credit, they were resilient, they bounced back and got the lead again and protected it," said head coach Derek Laxdal. "Especially when we had to kill off a late penalty.
"The first win in a short tournament is very important. It's a big win for us. It wasn't our best hockey, it wasn't our best game. But we found a way."
Follow me on TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI