SUN Hockey Pool

Exorcise the demons!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

It's kind of the hockey version of one of those office Christmas funds.

All season the Edmonton Oilers have been banking home games, waiting for the holidays to cash them in and make their move.

Last night they finally started shopping for a higher place in the standings.

It took until the final two minutes to put the Montreal Canadiens away 5-3, but when they did the Oilers moved into sixth place in the NHL West.

That's rare air for the terminally-eighth place team we have known and not necessarily loved for so long around here.

This was one of those games, coach Craig MacTavish knew, that could be a turning point of a season.

"We had to win that game," he said.

"There was just no way we could not win that game.

"I can't stress enough the importance of that game.

"And to win it the way we did, to outright outwill our way to a win, that could go a long way."

It so easily could have gone the other way.

Like so many games coming off a road trip, the Oilers looked like they were skating in sand for the first two periods, unable to complete three passes in a row or come even close to grabbing the game by the throat.

"If we lost, it would have been two steps forward and two steps back again," said MacTavish.

"We're coming off another two steps forward on another road trip and if we came back and lost that game, we're starting all over again.

"If we didn't win that game, all the good work we've done on the road has been nullified again."

The Oilers, with the third-best road record in the league, went to Rexall Place last night having played seven fewer games at home than on the road.

Eight of their next 11, starting with the Montreal Canadiens last night and ending when the Toronto Maple Leafs' visit Jan. 7, are at home.

"We need the games in our building now," said MacTavish.

"We've been getting beat at home by a bad break here and a bad break there. Good teams have to overcome bad breaks and will their way to win at home like we did tonight."

ROAD RECORD

The Oilers' 10-7-2 road record is the third best in the league.

At home with the 6-4-2 record they took to the rink last night, the Oilers were ranked 24th.

"There is no reason we shouldn't be in the top five teams at home," said Ethan Moreau, a player possessed for the Oilers last night who scored the payoff goal with 1:23 to go.

"We're built for this building. There's no reason we shouldn't have one of the top records in the league in here."

Steve Staios said they dodged a bullet by getting their act together in the third period to turn a dud into a dandy.

"You could see by the way we played the first two periods that we're still not there. The way we played the third period is the way we have to play at home. It's not acceptable the way we started the game.

"It should be a hot box in their end for the first 10 minutes of any game in here with the visiting team knowing they're going to get hit three or four times."

While nobody is predicting another City of Champions Grey Cup-Stanley Cup double, this is a team which over the holiday season has a chance to put some separation between themselves and the out-of-the-playoffs teams and not have to go down to the last game of the season to determine whether they'll be in or out of the playoffs this year.

Remember what happened the last time the Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens here?

It was the Heritage Classic and the Oilers lost the NHL's only outdoor game 4-3 before a league record crowd of 57,167. That was the beginning of a skid which sent the Oilers reeling for weeks and eventually cost them a playoff position.

OPPOSITE EFFECT

This game could have exactly the opposite effect.

"It would be nice to exorcise the demons of the Heritage Classic," said MacTavish.


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