SUN Hockey Pool

Pucker up, boys

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

The storyline was simple.

A win meant keeping the Calgary Flames within hailing distance. A loss meant, for all intents and purposes, kissing their cousins from Cowtown goodbye in terms of catching them atop the Northwest Division.

The situation couldn't have been more straightforward for the Edmonton Oilers when they filed onto the ice at Rexall Place last night, five points in arrears of the Flames and with just one win in their last five games.

Understanding the stakes is one thing, but delivering with the money on the table proved quite another as the Oilers lost for the fourth time in six meetings with the Flames, this time 3-1.

Too often flat and without emotion and intensity were the Oilers, who didn't muster nearly enough fight in the latest chapter of a Battle of Alberta that's fast becoming a one-sided slap down.

Pucker up, boys.

"We're going through a bit of a lull right now. You can tell our energy level is down," said Ethan Moreau.

'DON'T HAVE THAT SPARK'

"Hopefully, it doesn't last long. We know when we're on our game, we're tough to beat. We're just not on our game right now. Collectively, we don't have that spark, that energy."

What began as a tough night for Jarome Iginla, who slammed into the end boards early and busted his lip open, turned out fine as the Calgary captain scored two goals.

Oiler-killer Miikka Kiprusoff did the rest with 30 saves in his 11th consecutive start. That made a goal by Kristian Huselius 8:57 into the second period stand as the winner as the Oilers lost their third straight at home.

"They're a frustrating team for us to play right now," said Shawn Horcoff. "We're not playing confident as a team. When that happens, we get out of sync and don't really do the simple things that are going to turn things around for us."

While the Flames are left to battle it out with the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest Division title and one of the top three seeds in the Western Conference, the Oilers pack for stops in Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix, clinging to eighth place in the conference. Right now, it looks look less-than-convincing that they can hang on to it.

"I think in the second period, in particular, we lost a lot of battles at both ends of the rink," coach Craig MacTavish said.

"I thought we came out and played well in the first period. In the second period, I thought they outplayed us pretty significantly."

Mike Morrison, yanked after allowing three goals on 10 shots Dec. 23 when he last faced the Flames, didn't get much in the way of help in this one.

Iginla was left alone in front to convert a Matthew Lombardi feed for a 1-0 lead just seven minutes in.

After the Oilers got even on a goal by Ales Hemsky 8:41 into the second, the Flames jumped ahead 16 seconds later when Igor Ulanov lost a foot race with Tony Amonte, then lost the handle on Huselius, who sifted the rubber into the twine.

LOOSE PUCK

When Iginla made it 3-1, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and beating Morrison five-hole after Steve Staios blocked a shot by Lombardi, there was no coming back.

"Not to take anything away from their team because they work really hard, but that guy's their meal ticket," Moreau said of Kiprusoff. "He's a pretty good goalie, and they know how to play in front of him."

ON THE CLOCK: MacTavish is talking about cutting back on the 28:24 of ice time Chris Pronger is averaging per game by reducing the amount of times he spends killing penalties. Pronger, second in the NHL in average ice time behind Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit, played 25:21 last night.

AROUND THE RINK ... Ulanov drew back in on a pairing with rookie Matt Greene after sitting out six straight games with a bad knee ... Kiprusoff has played every second through six games against the Oilers this season and has allowed just 13 goals.


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