EDMONTON — “The goalie’s not good,” the grim-faced coach said on the post-game podium. “He won’t be back in the series.”
It was June 6, 2006, and Craig MacTavish had just watched his Edmonton Oilers lose Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes, and been informed that his No. 1 goalie, Dwayne Roloson, was done for the series with a knee injury.
“Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron had checked big Carolina rookie Andrew Ladd into Roloson with about six minutes left in the third period of a 4-4 tie. Roloson was down in his butterfly position and took the brunt of Ladd’s heft on his right knee. Roloson left with what is believed to be an MCL sprain in his right knee, replaced by backup Ty Conklin, who promptly mishandled the puck behind the net to give Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour an open-net freebie, a knife to Edmonton’s heart with 32 seconds left in the game.”
That’s how we wrote it that night in Raleigh. To this day, the players on that Oilers club believe that moment cost them each a Stanley Cup ring.
“It’s pretty obvious,” said Ethan Moreau, a winger on that ’06 Oilers club, speaking on a Zoom conference on Wednesday. “We went from having the best goalie in the world at that time — and these comments have nothing to do with Jussi (Markkanen) or Ty (Conklin)’s abilities or qualities as teammates — but Rollie was at a different level. I really, truly believe that when we entered the playoffs, we had the best goalie in the world and the best defenceman in the world (Chris Pronger).
“It goes without saying. We’ve all been saying it for a decade-and-a-half.”
Back in 1987, the Philadelphia Flyers were forced to play the Oilers in Stanley Cup Finals without their leading scorer Tim Kerr. They lost in seven games.
In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks had a series of injuries that severely diminished their overall team play in their Final series against the Boston Bruins. They lost in seven games.
For Edmonton in 2006, losing Roloson in Game 1 was, as Moreau said, “the turning point.”
“The confidence that Rollie showed right from when we got him (at the trading deadline from Minnesota), it came throughout our team,” said centreman Jarret Stoll. “We all know that confidence can do wonders … and we were absolutely rolling when we went into those playoffs. It took us until the 80th or maybe 81st game to clinch … but we were healthy, we got some breaks, we had unbelievable goaltending and timely goals. That’s what it takes.”
In Edmonton, perhaps they’ve spent too much time over the years gazing back at those dynasty teams from the 1980s that won five Stanley Cups. The ‘06 club was nothing like that, however.
Coming out of the cancelled 2004-05 season due to an NHL lockout, it was an average Oilers team that GM Kevin Lowe augmented through trades and free agency, starting with the August acquisition of Pronger in a trade with St. Louis. He added Roloson at the deadline in a gutsy trade that involved a first-round pick, and Lowe added veteran players like Mike Peca, Jaroslav Spacek and Sergei Samsonov to a young group that included Stoll, Raffi Torres and soon-to-be playoff scoring sensation Fernando Pisani.
They had Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, captain Jason Smith, Todd Harvey, Steve Staios, Rem (The Gem) Murray…
“The way our locker room was when I first got traded there,” recalled Roloson, “it was just like a big family. You’d come into the locker room, you’ve got Joey (Moss) running around, you’ve got guys wrestling… It was relaxed and it translated to the way we played on the ice.”
They went on an incredible playoff run that began with the No. 8 seed Oilers beating the No. 1 seed Detroit Red Wings, a club that had finished 29 points ahead of them in the standings.
Said Stoll: “To look at their lineup and I think they finished with 124 points and we had no business winning that series. But we outworked them and outplayed them and we had Dwayne Roloson. After that Game 6 win (series clincher) we all went to Hudson’s on Whyte Ave and the fans were all there. Enjoying, celebrating with them. And going back to my place afterwards. Couldn’t get Rollie out of there for two days.”
They lived hard, that Oilers team, and played hard too. After dusting San Jose and Anaheim they thought they had a better team than the Hurricanes.
“We scored the first three goals (of the series) and I was sitting on the bench and saying in my head, ‘This is a joke. We’re going to win,’” Moreau said. “Rollie was such a big part of our success that losing him was insurmountable. We almost did it, through sheer will.”
With Markkanen installed as the new netminder, the Oilers returned to Raleigh in Game 5 and won on Pisani’s shorthanded overtime goal, the only such game-winner in Stanley Cup history. They smoked the Hurricanes 4-0 in Game 6 and returned to North Carolina for Game 7.
Losing that final game 3-1 (a late, empty-net goal) still sticks with Stoll — even after he won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.
“I’m still upset we lost Game 7 in Carolina. We had the team, we had all the right ingredients and things were going well,” Stoll said. “You feel that we had it and we let it slip away. It still hurts for sure. To win in Edmonton… we heard about it when we played there, and lived there. To win in that city would just be unbelievable. I can only imagine what those guys in the ’80s, winning all those Stanley Cups, how they were experiencing it.
“Yeah, that hurts not to have a chance to do that.”