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40 Moments: Fernando Pisani keeps the dream alive

In order to celebrate the Edmonton Oilers’ 40-year anniversary AND distract ourselves during this hockey-less nightmare, we’ll be re-living 40 amazing moments from Oilers history. Today, we have Fernando Pisani’s clutch, short-handed overtime goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. 

I couldn’t imagine how Steve Staios felt skating off to the penalty box.

With the Oilers just one sudden-death overtime goal away from watching the Hurricanes lift the Stanley Cup, Staios was called for a questionable tripping penalty, giving Carolina a prime opportunity to win it all. Fortunately for Staios and the Oilers, Fernando Pisani came to the rescue, just as he had been doing all spring.

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That 2006 team is loaded with great stories and performances. There was Chris Pronger playing some of the best hockey of his Hall of Fame career on the blueline, breakout play from budding star Ales Hemsky, and trade-deadline pickup Dwayne Roloson with lights-out performances in net. At the top of the list, though, was Pisani, a local product who defied all odds to become the city’s playoff hero.

A native of St. Albert born in 1976, Pisani grew up idolizing the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s. Years later, not only would he be skating on the same ice as the players he grew up watching, but he would be playing a key role in helping the Oilers on their biggest playoff run since their dynasty days.

In his 19-year-old season with the St. Albert Saints of the AJHL, Pisani posted a league-leading 103 points, helping the team win the league’s championship. That showing was good enough for Pisani to get selected by the Oilers 195th overall in the 1996 NHL entry draft.

Pisani spent four seasons playing in the NCAA for Providence College before turning pro and spending two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Finally, in 2002-03, six years after being drafted, Pisani was called up to the Oilers. Always considered a longshot, Pisani relished the opportunity to play for his hometown club.

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“You kind of catch yourself kind looking around and saying ‘wow this is amazing, these are some of the guys I grew idolizing growing up and they were in the same dressing room as me’, and you just sit there and are in awe and appreciate the moment and that’s something that I’ll never forget,” said Pisani.

He would play 35 games for the Oilers in 2002-03, tallying 13 points. The following year, Pisani cracked the team for good. He spent the entire season with the Oilers, putting up 16 goals and 30 points. After spending the 2004-05 lockout season between Switzerland and Italy, Pisani returned in 2005-06, posting a career-high 18 goals and 37 points.

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The Oilers, who underachieved all season due largely to shaky goaltending, snuck into the playoffs after general manager Kevin Lowe went out and acquired veterans Dwayne Roloson, Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek, and Dick Tarnstrom ahead of the trade deadline. Though the Oilers, who were seeded eighth in the Western Conference, were viewed as an underdog, the players in the locker room knew they could beat anybody.

The playoffs are all about who gets hot at the right time. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s the perfect time for random players to come out of the woodwork and build legacies for themselves.

The Oilers had a lot going for them that made them much better than your average eighth seed. They had Hall of Fame defender Chris Pronger leading a solid blueline. They had Ryan Smyth leading a strong top line with breakout youngsters Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. They had quality veterans like Mike Peca and Sergei Samsonov up and down the lineup. They also finally had a legitimate goaltender with Dwayne Roloson in the net. And they also had Pisani, who caught fire and out up a clutch 14-goal performance during the team’s run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

In Game 6 of the first round, the Oilers had the heavily-favoured Red Wings on the brink of elimination on home ice in Edmonton. The Wings were up 2-0 heading into the third period, but Pisani scored two quick goals early in the period to knot the game. Ales Hemsky would go on to score the series-winning goal with under four minutes left on the clock.

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In the second round, the Oilers found themselves down 2-0 in the series to the Sharks. Shawn Horcoff scored a huge triple-overtime goal in Game 3 to keep the series alive and then Edmonton exploded for a 6-3 win in Game 4 to tie the series. In Game 5 back in San Jose, Pisani put up another two-goal performance, picking up the game-winning goal and giving the Oilers a 3-2 lead in the series.

With two more goals in a quick, five-game dispatching of the Ducks in the Western Conference Final, Pisani had racked up a team-leading nine goals through the first three rounds. His most clutch goal of the whole run game against Carolina. After dropping the first two games of the series on the road, the Oilers came back home and stayed alive by winning Game 3. They would lose Game 4 in Edmonton, resulting in them having to head back to Carolina on the brink of elimination.

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Pisani would open the scoring just 16 seconds into the game. Carolina would answer back with a couple of goals to take a 2-1 lead, but a power-play goal from Hemsky and a last-second goal from Peca gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead heading into the first intermission. Eric Staal scored to tie the game mid-way through the second frame, knotting the game at 3-3. The teams would remain in a deadlock through the third period, putting the Oilers in a situation in which a goal against would result in the Hurricanes winning the Cup.

A couple of minutes into sudden-death, Mark Recchi broke the puck into the Oilers’ zone and got tangled up with Steve Staios. The ref called Staois for a trip and the veteran defender had to take the long, painful skate to the penalty box, giving Carolina a golden opportunity to win it all.

The Oilers won the face-off in their own zone and iced the puck. Peca worked the puck off of Staal with a relentless forecheck and got it back to Pronger in the neutral zone, who fired it deep again. Peca provided pressure again while the Canes tried to break the puck out of the zone.

Pisani, waiting at Carolina’s blueline, saw an opportunity that came from a weak pass up the middle by Cory Stillman. He jumped in and poked the puck just as it was about the cross the blueline and sprung himself on a breakaway. In completely alone, Pisani roofed a shot over Cam Ward’s glove, ending the game and sending the series back to Edmonton.

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We all know what happened after that, so I won’t bother going into it.

That 2006 run produced so many amazing moments. Hemsky’s last-minute goal to slay the Red Wings, Horcoff’s clutch triple-overtime goal, Smyth continuing to play even after getting his teeth knocked out, and so, so, so much more. But, for me, it’s Pisani who really stands out when looking back on this run.

There’s something special about a local guy, one with such a longshot backstory, coming through in the clutch for his childhood team as Pisani did.

“To do that in front of your home team and hometown and having family and friends there, that was one of the more memorable experiences that I’ve ever had,” he said.