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June 01, 2008

2006: Stanley Stays South

The year is 2006. A year after the Stanley Cup takes up residence in Florida, the legendary trophy extends it's stay in the southern sunshine of the United States. Aided by an impressive power play and a balanced line up, the Carolina Hurricanes become Stanley Cup champions.

The Cup stays south again at the expense of an Albertan team. This time around it is the Edmonton Oilers on an unexpected run to the finals. It is the first time since 1990 that the once-dynastic Oilers are back in the finals.

The Oilers were the 8th seed in the Western Conference, barely squeaking into the playoffs. But that was all forgotten when they caught fire in the first round against highly favored Detroit. The Oilers also upset San Jose and Anaheim on their journey.

The 'Canes meanwhile entered the playoffs as a definite contender, seeding second in the Eastern Conference. They earned their finals berth with grudge matches against Montreal, New Jersey and especially Buffalo. Carolina, with 8 returnees, returned to the finals after appearing in 2002.

The Edmonton-Carolina match up created a first in Stanley Cup history. Carolina was formerly the Hartford Whalers, making this finals the first ever showdown between former WHA franchises. It was a great finals, going the distance with all 7 games being necessary.

Game one featured a monster comeback by the home town Hurricanes, who overcame a three goal deficit to win 5 to 4 in extra time. It did not help that Oilers star goalie Dwayne Roloson suffered a series ending knee injury. An ill-prepared Ty Conklin came off the bench and subsequently surrendered the game tying goal after terribly misplaying it with just 32 seconds remaining.

Game two saw the Oilers third goalie enter the series. Jussi Markkanen played admirably, even spectacularly at times. He restored the Oilers shaken confidence for the rest of the series, though game two was definitely the Hurricane's night. The 'Canes got goals from 5 different scores, and eventual Conn Smythe trophy winner Cam Ward posted the 5-0 shutout.

Ryan Smyth scored a controversial goal to win game 3 and get the Oilers back into the series, but the Oilers anemic power play cost them game 4. The 'Canes returned to North Carolina with a 3-1 series lead.

The Oilers remained undaunted. Fernando Pisani scored big goals to bookend the Oilers 4-3 OT win. And in game 6 Markkanen posted a 4-0 shutout, with the red-hot Pisani scoring his 5th game winning goal of this post-season.

Though the Oilers carried momentum into the final game, there was no way Carolina would blow a third consecutive chance to win Lord Stanley's grail. With strong goaltending from Ward and goals from unheralded defensemen Aaron Ward and Frantisek Kaberle, the 'Canes carried a 2-0 lead into the final period. Pisani scored a goal early in the third to give the Oilers life but Ward shut the door. Justin Williams scored into an empty net to seal the deal for the boys from Raleigh.

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