RALEIGH, N.C. - It all comes down to one game for the Stanley Cup: Game 7 of the NHL finals tonight between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina led 3 games to 1 but the Oilers won the next two to force game 7.
Only one team has overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup finals. Only two have won Game 7 on the road with the silver trophy at stake. Only three have come back to win the championship after starting with two losses.
The Oilers don't seem the least bit concerned about overcoming all those daunting challenges.
"We have not followed too many rules in this postseason," center Shawn Horcoff said Sunday, on the eve of the biggest game of his life. "I know we've been the underdog in most people's minds. But we really believe we can get this thing done."
Indeed, Edmonton is one win away from pulling off one of the most remarkable surprises in playoff history.
The Oilers are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes at three games apiece. Game 7 is Monday night in Raleigh.
Already, Edmonton upset three higher-ranked teams in the Western Conference to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the Stanley Cup finals under the current playoff format. Now, after blowing a three-goal lead in Game 1, losing their top goalie for the rest of the series with a knee injury and getting wiped out 5-0 in Game 2, the Oilers are on the cusp of their first championship since 1990.
Just a few days ago, they seemed out of it.
Carolina, which had 11 more wins and 17 more points during the regular season, won Game 4 on the road and returned to Tobacco Road with a chance to carry away its first Stanley Cup.
Heck, they already were planning a championship celebration in Carolina. On top of that, a sports collectible magazine released 60,000 copies with a cover story that proclaimed "'Canes Capture The Cup."
No so fast.
Edmonton's Fernando Pisani scored a short-handed goal in overtime to win Game 5. The Oilers romped to a dominating 4-0 victory in Game 6. Now, it's winner take all - and the resurgent Oilers seem much fresher, much quicker, much more determined.
"I think we're all embarrassed by the way we played," Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley said after returning from Edmonton.
The only team that squandered a 3-1 lead in the finals was Detroit, which actually won the first three games against Toronto in 1942 - then lost the next four. Those Red Wings also are one of the three teams that jumped out to a 2-0 lead and didn't win the cup.
When the finals go to Game 7, the home team is 11-2. The 1971 Montreal Canadiens were the most recent road team to capture the cup in a decisive game.
Just as the Oilers fed off the enthusiasm of their fans in Alberta, Carolina is counting on its crowd to be a major factor in the last game of the season.
"They've been a huge boost to us all year," said rookie goalie Cam Ward, one of the few Hurricanes who's played well throughout the series. "We've got to use that to our advantage."
Edmonton looked right on the mark when it claimed to be wearing down a Carolina lineup filled with key 30-something players such as Wesley (37), Rod Brind'Amour (35), Bret Hedican (35) and Ray Whitney (34).
Led by feisty, hit-anything-in-red Raffi Torres, the younger Oilers are much like a boxer who just wants to get an aging fighter into the later rounds, then finish him off. Not even the return of 30-goal scorer Erik Cole, thought to be out for the season after breaking a vertebra in his neck, sparked the Hurricanes on Saturday.
"We feel like we've got them to the point where we can push them over the edge," Edmonton left wing Ethan Moreau said.
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette even seemed to concede as much, at least for one night. He wondered why his team appeared so slow and out of sync in Game 6.
"We were pretty lousy in all aspects," he said. "We didn't have energy in our legs, in our skating, all the things that have been trademark for us all season long."
If not for several big saves by Ward - including an extraordinary glove stop on Radek Dvorek at the end of a three-on-one - the Hurricanes would have been beaten much, much worse. In the second period, they didn't get a puck to Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen for more than 14 minutes. Edmonton had 21 of the first 24 shots and finished with a commanding 34-16 edge.
Borrowing a page from the Hurricanes' defensive playbook earlier in the series, Markkanen's teammates actually blocked more shots (20) than he did in helping the former third-string goalie to his first playoff shutout.
In fact, this series seems to have flipped around totally. Edmonton, which converted only one of 25 power plays in the first two games, scored three of its four goals Saturday with the man advantage.
Carolina, which had been doing such a good job killing penalties and capitalizing on them, went 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 6.
"We know the power play is going to play a tremendous role in the next game," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "Whoever wins the special teams is going to have a huge advantage."