Long trek, but Oil Kings still in driver’s seat
During its 100-year history, decisions by the Court of Appeal have created many significant changes in the day-to-day lives of all Albertans.
Brandon Wheat Kings’ Rihards Bukarts takes a tumble as he and Edmonton Oil Kings’ Curtis Lazar chase the puck during Game 4 of their second-round WHL playoff series, Wednesday evening at Westman Place.
Photograph by: Colin Corneau , Brandon SunEDMONTON - The 1,143 kilometre drive from Brandon to Edmonton is a long one, regardless of whether you’re in good spirits or bad.
After a disappointing 5-2 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Edmonton Oil Kings did what they could to break up their long haul home, stopping Wednesday night in Regina.
On Thursday afternoon, the team was still on its bus, still plodding along on its early-springtime drive through the prairies — an endless tour of Metamucil brown terrain.
If there were ever a time for reflection on what went wrong and on what could have been — a win on Wednesday night would have sent the Oil Kings to the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference final — this was it. Head coach Derek Laxdal wasn’t seeing that from his group, though.
“No, it’s fine, it’s just a playoff game that you lost,” he said of his team’s mood on the long trip home.
“You’re up 3-1 in the series and you’ve got to try to win that fourth game. The guys are fine. They played pretty hard (Wednesday) night.
The Oil Kings were tied 2-2 with Brandon in the third period, when Wheat Kings forward Jens Meilleur scored a short-handed goal that helped his team nab a season-saving win.
“We were right there,” Laxdal said. “We had a pretty good effort from about 80 per cent of our team and we’ve got to get the other 20 per cent on board. That’ll be the goal for (Friday).
If they meet that goal, they’ll be back in the conference final for the third consecutive year, chasing their third consecutive appearance in the WHL final. Leading 3-1, the Oil Kings are still in firm control of the series, but will want to wrap the series up at home on Friday night (7 p.m., Rexall Place) before Brandon starts to generate some serious momentum.
“I think we know Brandon pretty good and Brandon knows Edmonton pretty good,” Laxdal said. “We’ll see if we can compete and bring our best game. Brandon is going to be trying to bring their best game, they’re still facing elimination.
“We played pretty well (Wednesday) night and had a chance to win. We had a lot of good looks. We had a goal in the first period that I thought should have counted (Edgars Kulda’s power play goal was immediately waved off with a quick whistle) but you can’t change those calls. You’ve got to move forward. We have to focus on playing our best game (Friday) night.
Discipline factors to be a big part of that. Laxdal applauded his players early in this series for avoiding the after-the-whistle activities that a frustrated Wheat Kings team was trying to pull them into. On Wednesday, it was the Oil Kings who were looking for extracurriculars late in the game, unhappy with the unfamiliar taste of defeat in the playoffs.
In the final two minutes of Game 4, Kulda was called for elbowing and Henrik Samuelsson picked up a roughing call, at 18:01. Dysin Mayo was whistled for cross-checking Brandon’s Rihards Bukarts with four seconds left in the game. Bukarts was slow to leave the ice after his encounter with Mayo.
“When you’re down 5-2 you’re going to try and set the tone for the next game,” Laxdal said. “Brandon did that the first three games and I thought our guys took a couple of penalties late in the game, but it’s history. You move on and get ready for Game 5.
“Emotions are so high in playoffs and pro, junior, minor pro, it’s the same. These kids are playing for the right to move on. They’re playing to win that game and emotions are high and that’s just the competitiveness of the sport.
That competitiveness is something Laxdal is OK with, though he’d like to harness it, to an extent.
“You address it in every meeting. You talk about discipline, you talk about playing whistle-to-whistle and you’ve got to keep on reinforcing it,” he said.
If all goes to plan for Laxdal’s crew, only one team will be making that long trek through the prairies after Friday night.
Brandon Wheat Kings’ Rihards Bukarts takes a tumble as he and Edmonton Oil Kings’ Curtis Lazar chase the puck during Game 4 of their second-round WHL playoff series, Wednesday evening at Westman Place.Photograph by: Colin Corneau, Brandon Sun E-mail this GalleryPrint this GalleryShare this Gallery Photo Galleries » More Photo GalleriesOilers bow to KingsThe Edmonton Oilers were easily outmatched by the ...more » Mama-ste: Moms and babies bond...Instructor Alia Wieland teaches the Baby and Me Yoga...more » Masters golf first round tees ...The world's top male golfers tee off on Thursday for...
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