Fernando Pisani still has the puck, mounted in a commemorative case in his Edmonton home, a memento from the night he made NHL history.
It was Pisani who delayed the Carolina Hurricanes’ celebration 10 years ago. It was his shorthanded goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final that gave the Edmonton Oilers a 4-3 overtime victory, extending the series just as the Canes were on the verge of winning the Cup before their home fans.
Pisani, 39, still is revered by Oilers fans in his hometown. And not just for the shorthanded goal – the first ever in an overtime game in a Cup Final. The forward had 14 goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year – and almost a 15th that might have been the biggest dagger of all for the Canes.
Pisani said that the passing of time has not completely eased the pain of losing the seven-game series and the Cup. He has rarely watched any replays, he said, either of his shorthanded score that was so sweet for the Oilers or his near-miss late in Game 7 that would have tied the score.
The memories of Game 5, in what then was the RBC Center, remain fresh.
“Obviously we were in a do-or-die situation, down 3-1 in the series,” Pisani said. “I remember how loud the arena was, how wild and crazy it was, the intensity of the game. I was surprised how loud that building was.”
In overtime, the Oilers’ Steve Staios was called for a tripping penalty and the Canes went on the power play. Many in the arena sensed this was the time, that the Canes would score and the party with the Cup would begin.
But Pisani, who had scored 16 seconds into the game, said the Oilers’ penalty killing had been strong most of the playoffs, adding, “We didn’t want to go out that way, on a power-play goal.”
And, in a span of six seconds, everything changed.
Canes forward Cory Stillman had the puck in the Oilers zone and while being pressured from Edmonton’s Ethan Moreau, attempted a cross-ice pass to Eric Staal. Pisani said Moreau made just enough of a stick-on-stick play against Stillman — many of the Canes called it a slash — to slow down the pass.
“It knocked the steam off of it,” Pisani said. “I was sitting and watching and …”
Pisani bolted in like a football free safety picking off a pass, knocking the puck away from Staal near the blue line and quickly skated in on goalie Cam Ward. Saying Ward was leaning to the blocker side, he went top shelf to the glove side.
“It was like time stood still, the way it developed,” Pisani said.
Just like that, the Oilers were back in the series. “A sense of new life,” Pisani said.
The Canes’ Rod Brind’Amour said the goal, so sudden, was like a kick in the teeth.
“A crusher,” Brind’Amour said. “We were at home, on the power play with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. We all thought, ‘This is it, this is when we win the Cup.’ It gotten taken out of our grasp. We were devastated.”
The Canes were blitzed 4-0 in Game 6 in Edmonton, but returned to Raleigh for Game 7 determined to get the job done. Carolina led 2-0 entering the third period, but Pisani punched in a rebound early in the third to make it a 2-1 game, cranking up the tension level in the building.
The rebound came out and popped over my stick. I just missed on a good scoring opportunity.
Former Edmonton Oilers forward Fernando Pisani
With less than four minutes left in regulation, the Oilers rushed into the Canes zone. Raffi Torres got off a shot from the left wing that Ward stopped but there was Pisani crashing the net, again in position to put in the rebound.
“The rebound came out and popped over my stick,” Pisani said. “I just missed on a good scoring opportunity. The puck had been going in for me in the playoffs. If it did not miss my stick …”
Ward stuck out his left pad and then smothered the puck, for what was to become known as “The Save.” Justin Williams later scored an empty-net goal, the Canes won 3-1 and they soon were on the ice parading around with the Stanley Cup.
“The way it ended is not what we wanted,” Pisani said. “Home-ice advantage would have been nice in Game 7.”
Pisani played five more seasons in the NHL, the last with Chicago in 2010-11. The Oilers, the eighth seed in the 2006 playoffs, have not returned to the postseason since ’06 and the Canes just once.
Pisani spent the past three years as an assistant hockey coach at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, but won’t return this year. He said he’s content to help teach his sons the game, although he would like to catch on with an NHL team one day, perhaps in a developmental role.
But in the spring of 2006, Pisani stood tall, the local kid who became a hero. As he put it, “Edmonton lives and dies with the Oilers and when things are going their way, it’s a fantastic time to be in Edmonton.”