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Edmonton Journal article (Oil Kings crush Ice)

March 30 2012 at 8:01 AM
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Response to Vancouver Province article (Giants aim to bounce back)

Oil Kings crush Ice

Edmonton sweeps Kootenay to reach second round of playoffs

By Chris O'Leary, Edmonton Journal

March 30, 2012

The gloves stayed on, there was no dog-piling on goalie Laurent Brossoit, and there were no blaring Queen tracks in the locker-room when it was done.

The Edmonton Oil Kings won their first playoff series on Thursday night, but they looked like they'd been there before.

The 3-1 victory over the Kootenay Ice gave the Oil Kings a four-game sweep of the series and sends the team into the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.

Their opponent is likely the sixth-ranked Brandon Wheat Kings, who eliminated the third-ranked Calgary Hitmen Thursday. For that to happen, the Moose Jaw Warriors have to close out their 3-1 series lead over the Regina Pats.

Regardless of their opponent, the regular-season champion Oil Kings will host Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal on April 6 and 7 at Rexall Place.

Edmonton rode a two-goal performance from 20-year-old winger Rhett Rachinski, with captain and 20-year-old defenceman Mark Pysyk scoring the first goal of the night.

Brossoit made 14 saves. Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal was proud that his team handled the defending league champions so well.

"Any time you beat out a champion, it says a lot about your hockey club," he said. "Kootenay played a hell of a series. I thought they really pressed us hard in every game and we had to fight for every inch that we got.

"You've got to give them a lot of credit because they stood in there and battled us hard, but you've got to give our guys credit. This is a tough rink to play in. They come at you hard, they're physical, they pressure you hard, they force you into mistakes and I thought we showed a lot of poise."

On paper, this was the result that was expected. Edmonton won 50 games in the regular season and is on a 15-game winning streak that stretches back to Feb. 24.

A sweep of the No. 8 seed should have been par for the course. Having gone into this post-season with only a pair of sweeps against them in 2009 and 2011, the potential was there for a slip-up. While each of the four games were close, losing never seemed to be an option.

"That was the question, whether or not we could go into the playoffs as such a young team and take all of the extra 10 per cent of grit," said Brossoit. "I think we did just that. I mean, all of the players stepped up and we proved (naysayers) wrong."

The win was especially rewarding for Pysyk and Rachinski, who experienced the lows of the team upon its reentry into the WHL, including a 16-win season in 2009.

"Hopefully, next year I can make Rochester or stay over there (with the Buffalo Sabres), but I'm not really worried about that," Pysyk said. "I'm just here and trying to make it last. We've got some 20s in the room and who knows when we'll have another group of guys like this together."

"We hadn't won a playoff game and getting that first one was good to get that one under our belt," Rachinski said. "For a guy that's been around to see this team go from a 16-win season all the way to what we are now, it's pretty special."

Pysyk opened the scoring at 4:22 of the first period on the power play. His point shot bounced high off of Ice goaltender Nathan Lieuwen (25 saves) and landed behind him. It had just enough wobble on it to cross the line and give the Oil Kings their first 1-0 lead since Game 1.

Ice captain Drew Czerwonka tied the game in the second period, netting his team's only power-play goal of the series at 10:21.

Rachinski scored what would be the game-winner at 14:09 of the second on a fluke play. His pass attempt from behind the net hit a stick in front and bounced in. Rachinski iced the game with 37 seconds left on the clock, scoring into an empty net to give him his first two goals of the playoffs.

"I had a crossbar early in the game, so I was kind of wondering when it was finally going to go in for me," said Rachinski. "So it was nice to see that (first) one go in. It was a bit of a lucky goal, but I'm glad it went in and that's always nice, to get one at the end there."

The high fives and cheering had their moment Thursday, but Edmonton is already getting down to business for Round 2. A popular hashtag among the Oil Kings on Twitter after the game was #15isafluke16isastreak.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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