SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers need help

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

DETROIT -- This was as straightforward as it gets.

Win three games, starting with this one, and there would be no way for the Vancouver Canucks to deny the Edmonton Oilers a place in Western Conference playoffs, and maybe a ticket back to Hockeytown.

Lose, and they'd again open the door for the Canucks.

Knowing the stakes, the Oilers were ready and willing when the puck dropped against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena last night - not the case in Sunday's no-show in St. Louis - but being able was another matter.

Better just wasn't good enough, as the Red Wings parlayed goals by Don MacLean and Kris Draper and 29 saves by Manny Legace into a 2-0 win that clinched Detroit the President's Trophy and wrenched control of the Oilers playoff fate back out of their hands.

Over to you, Vancouver.

FRUSTRATIONS CONTINUE

"It's frustrating," said Ryan Smyth. "Up against another hot goaltender and we couldn't put the puck away."

Legace's seventh shutout of the season made MacLean's first goal as a Red Wing - on a power play 9:46 into the game - stand up as the winner on a night the Oilers were infinitely better than in the 2-1 loss to the Blues.

But when MacLean and Legace got Detroit to the second intermission up by a goal - the Red Wings came in 36-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes - the Oilers were up against it.

"He had a big game," said Radek Dvorak, who was stiffed by Legace late in the second period. "We put a lot of pressure on him, had a lot of chances, and he made some big saves.

"After the first period, we played some pretty good hockey. We had our chances, but now we have to bounce back from this."

MACLEAN BRINGS PAIN

Michael Peca was in the box for tripping - an infraction that took place behind Detroit's net, 200 feet from danger - when MacLean shovelled a loose puck past Dwayne Roloson for a 1-0 lead, making good on one of four power-play attempts the Red Wings enjoyed in the period.

Outshot 14-7 in the opening 20 minutes, the Oilers stayed out of the box, save for a minor to Ethan Moreau, and did what they could to get back in the game in the second period.

But Legace denied them at every turn - most notably with a pad save on Dvorak in the final seconds of the period - to get the Red Wings to the third with the lead and that lethal stranglehold stat going for them.

"The games we've played this year, they beat us twice in overtime and we beat them in a shootout," said captain Steve Yzerman, who had an 11-game points streak snapped.

"They're a good team.

"They're a skating team that competes really hard."

Draper got some insurance when he pounced on a puck cleared out of the defensive zone, then waltzed in on a 2-on-1 against Chris Pronger and snapped a shot to the stick side against Roloson 19 seconds into the third.

The swing provided by Legace's save late in the second and Draper's goal early in the third was immense.

ONE RATTLED BUNCH

"It's kind of been our MO all year," said Pronger. "That's to play up to the level of our competition and play down to our competition.

"We're facing one of the best teams in the league.

"You'd like to rattle off a string of wins to gain a little confidence, but we've been like a yo-yo, up and down, in the confidence department."

Legace went back to work with less than nine minutes to play in the third when he frustrated Smyth on his doorstep, refusing to give up that first goal that might get the Oilers rolling.

"We can't sit and dwell on it," Smyth said. "We've got two games left. We dug ourselves a deeper hole and we have to find a way out of it."

AROUND THE RINK ... Henrik Zetterberg returned to the Detroit lineup after missing a game with a chest injury, but the Red Wings were without the injured trio of Mathieu Schneider, Pavel Datsyuk and Robert Lang.


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