Rod Brind'Amour scored off a miscue with 31.1 seconds remaining after Edmonton's backup goalie botched an exchange behind the net, and the Hurricanes, after falling behind 3-0, rallied to beat the Oilers 5-4 Monday night.
Ty Conklin had to take over in goal for Edmonton with just under six minutes remaining after Dwayne Roloson, the star of the eighth-seeded Oilers improbable playoff run, was injured in a collision that knocked the net off its moorings.
Roloson sustained a knee injury, and won't be back in the series, Oilers head coach Craig Mactavish said.
"(It is) an unfortunate set of circumstances," Mactavish said, continuing on to say that all the team could do was "bounce back from it."
Roloson's injury apparently means Conklin will have to go the rest of the way. He didn't pass his first test.
With overtime looming, Conklin went behind the net to play the puck on a seemingly routine play. But he appeared to cross up teammate Jason Smith with a backhanded pass, the puck deflecting off Smith's stick and sliding in front of an open net.
Brind'Amour scored his second goal of the night -- and he'll never get an easier one. Smith dove in a futile attempt to knock the puck away and Conklin was still coming around from behind the net when it crossed the line.
Carolina's rookie goalie, Cam Ward, had another brilliant playoff performance after backing up Martin Gerber through most of the regular season. Ward made 34 saves, including the second of two stirring stops on Shawn Horcoff at the side of the net with 3.8 seconds left.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Raleigh. Then, the series shifts to Edmonton for the next two games.
With two small-market finalists and an obscure cable network televising the first two games, the Edmonton-Carolina matchup was expected to draw minuscule television ratings.
Maybe a few more people will flip over after the Oilers and Hurricanes put on a stirring display with all sorts of twists and turns.
Carolina matched the biggest comeback in finals history, equaling five other teams that overcame a three-goal deficit to win. Edmonton's Chris Pronger scored the first penalty shot goal in finals history. Carolina finally scored late in the second period, then strung together three rapid-fire goals in the third. Justin Williams put the Hurricanes ahead for the first time on a shorthanded breakaway goal with 9:58 remaining in regulation.
The Oilers weren't done, either. After Ward made a brilliant stop on Horcoff, flinging his body back across the crease to somehow get an arm on the puck, Edmonton tied it up on a power-play goal by Ales Hemsky with 6:29 to go.
The Oilers were in the finals for the first time since 1990, when they finished off a run of five Stanley Cup titles in seven years with the vestiges of the Gretzky-Messier-Coffey-Fuhr dynasty.
After that 16-year layoff, Edmonton had to sit around for eight days before starting the finals. The Oilers got plenty of rest after needing only five games to beat Anaheim in the Western Conference finals.
Carolina had a much tougher time on the Eastern side, rallying in the third period of Game 7 to beat the Buffalo Sabres and advance to its second Stanley Cup final in four years.
The teams spent the first few minutes feeling each other out, neither mounting a serious scoring threat.
Finally, the Oilers capitalized on a Carolina mistake to get on the board. The Hurricanes floated an errant pass from behind the net, Jaroslav Spacek cut it off at the blue line and fired a shot toward the net. Ward made the initial save in the middle of a scrum, but the puck slid to the goalie's right and Edmonton native Fernando Pisani swept it in for team-leading 10th goal of the playoffs.
Pronger made it 2-0 on a first-of-a-kind goal. After Niclas Wallin was called for touching the puck in the crease with his glove, the Edmonton defenseman was awarded a penalty shot, the ninth in finals history and first since 1994. He became the first to score, beating Ward on the stick side.
The Oilers were cruising when Ethan Moreau scored off a deflection with less than 3½ minutes to go in the second period.
But Brind'Amour sparked the comeback less than a minute later when he scored Carolina's first goal, getting the raucous crowd back in the game. That clearly sparked the Hurricanes, who seemed to skate a bit faster and hit a little harder the rest of the way.
Ray Whitney scored back-to-back goals early in the third to tie it up. Then Williams scooped up a loose puck along the boards and swept in on a breakaway that gave Carolina its first lead.
There was a college football-like atmosphere outside the arena, which only seemed appropriate -- North Carolina State's football stadium is right next door. Fans wearing shorts, flip-flops and long-sleeved hockey sweaters took advantage of the warm, sunny evening to put on a boisterous display of tailgating before they headed inside for Game 1.
And a few especially knowledgeable fans showed up in green-and-blue Hartford Whalers attire -- a nod to Carolina's roots. The franchise started out in the old World Hockey Association, joined the NHL along with Edmonton and two other teams in 1980, then moved south in 1997.
This was the first time two former WHA teams met for the Stanley Cup.
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