BOSTON — Hardly a soul gave the 2006 Edmonton Oilers a shot at accomplishing anything in the Stanley Cup playoffs, let alone reach Game 7 of the Cup final.
But the Oilers made a miracle run to within one game of hockey’s ultimate prize, and speedy winger Sergei Samsonov — a former Boston Bruins first-round draft pick and Calder Trophy winner — was right in the thick of it with 4-11-15 totals in Edmonton’s 24 postseason games. Now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, who trail the Bruins 1-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series that continues with Game 2 tonight, the diminutive winger thinks his current squad can take somewhat of a cue from that ’06 team (that actually lost to Carolina).
“I think being an underdog helped a lot. You’re not expected to win a series, you’re more relaxed and you maybe don’t feel that much pressure,” Samsonov said today after his team’s morning skate at TD Banknorth Garden. “I think we had a great team in Edmonton, obviously. We made it to Game 7 of the finals. I think every series never really gave us a chance. We flew under the radar a little bit and once we got to the second and third rounds, we realized we had a really good team. I think that team was basically put together in the last month of the season and no one really knew. So it worked out well for us.”
“We can definitely say, looking at this series, that we’re underdogs,” he continued. “But I think we’ve been playing well throughout mid-February and March, toward the end of the season, so we feel pretty good about ourselves.”
After skating for playoff teams five straight seasons, Samsonov missed the postseason last year and the year before. Now 30, he’s savoring the playoff moments more than when he was a bright-eyed up-and-comer with the Bruins earlier this decade.
“I think when you’re young, you just don’t know,” he said. “You hear older guys saying, this could be your only chance. You listen to it, but until you experience it I guess it’s not the same. I do appreciate it a lot more now — being in the playoffs and having a chance to win.”
The Hurricanes’ chance of winning and making this run in the playoffs last probably won’t improve unless Samsonov gets his offensive game in gear. So far, he’s registered just one point in seven games. He was held off the score sheet in Game 1 vs. Boston. In an effort to get out of his funk, he’s trying his best not to press.
“Getting on the board, obviously, it’s something we have a few guys on the team that it needs to be done. But once you start thinking about it, you’re going to sacrifice something in your game,” said Samsonov, obviously grouping himself with Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole among the slumping Carolina scorers. “I think being responsible defensive first, it matters more than getting on the score sheet right now. In the back of your mind, you always want to be contributing offensively, but again, if you’re going to become just one-dimensional, you’re going to hurt your team eventually.”
Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice said he has been pleased with what Samsonov has brought his team this season, and he knows what the veteran has to do to get back on track.
“There’s a group of players that given more ice time, given more power-play time, they feel they can get to the numbers that make them feel good,” Maurice said. “The problem is other parts of their game sometimes keep them from those minutes. And Sammy’s been a real good player for us. I feel that when he’s moving his feet, his hands are there, they’re good. When he tries to do things standing still, his hands seem to suffer from that like most players.”
If Samsonov can move his feet and turn those actions into points, the Hurricanes might be able to make an ’06 Oilers-like run.