Hitting the wall

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- You again?

They were rolling along and pushing the Detroit Red Wings atop the standings in the Western Conference when the Edmonton Oilers beat them 5-1 and greased the skids on a losing streak that had hit five games when the Oilers came calling for an encore.

The Nashville Predators had all the motivation they needed to return the favour at the Gaylord Entertainment Centre when the Oilers showed up on their doorstep last night still stinging from the 4-0 spanking they took in Dallas Monday that ended a five-game winning streak.

Just as important, they had Tomas Vokoun between the pipes. It was the big Czech who helped provide payback for the Predators, as his 31 saves and a goal by Scott Hartnell with 23 seconds remaining in regulation time did the deed in a 3-2 Nashville win.

GREAT FOR CONFIDENCE

Right back at you, pal.

"It's a big win against a team that's right behind us," said Vokoun. "With the losing streak we've been on, it's great for our confidence to get a win like that. Everybody has to step up."

Vokoun gave up a power-play goal to Jarret Stoll but was the difference for the first 59 minutes before Hartnell capped a frantic final two minutes -- a stretch in which Nashville took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Kimmo Timonen at 18:05, only to have Ryan Smyth tie it at 19:01 -- with a disputed goal.

Hartnell gloved a Greg Johnson pass out of the air and shoved it past Jussi Markkanen for the winner, making it two straight losses for the Oilers.

"He grabbed it midway from the corner on out and gloved it down in front of him and hit it in," said Smyth, who complained bitterly to referees Dave Jackson and Rob Martell, to no avail. "That's what I was saying."

Blanked on five attempts in Dallas and two more in the first period, the Oiler power play hit the board 9:22 into the second period when Stoll took a feed from Shawn Horcoff and one-timed it behind Vokoun.

That's when he buckled down.

"We had ample opportunity to capitalize and we never did," lamented Smyth, who thought he'd guaranteed the Oilers at least a point with 59 seconds to play.

"Vokoun played well, but we've got to be composed once you tie it up like we did."

When Martin Erat sifted a knuckler past a screened Markkanen 3:44 into the third to tie it 1-1 -- prompting somebody to throw a dead catfish on the ice -- the stage for what would be a wild finish was set.

"We're tight," said Craig MacTavish.

"We're a tight team playing with a lead late in the game. "It's unbelievable and disappointing for everybody.

HAD OPPORTUNITIES

'We had opportunities to win the game. You go from being disappointed when they take the lead to so excited when we come back. When we scored to tie it ... that's devastating for our team.

"We've got to pick ourselves up and move forward. That's as tough a loss as we've had."

ULANOV HEADED HOME ...

The Oilers have sent defenceman Igor Ulanov home so he can rest and get treatment for the broken big toe on his right foot. Ulanov was poised to get back in the line-up against Dallas, but was hit on the toe by a shot at practice Sunday. He's out at least another week.

AROUND THE RINK: Marty Reasoner, out with a badly swollen right hand since being hit by a shot in Detroit, has improved and might be able to play in Columbus Friday ...Cory Cross (sprained MCL of the left knee) is also making strides and could be ready against the Blue Jackets.


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