They tried hard, wanted it badly, but couldn't overcome a series of Inspector Clouseau-like gaffes in a costly Northwest Division loss last night at GM Place.
Against a Vancouver Canucks team that doesn't need any help to win at home, the Oilers put one puck in their own net, giftwrapped another on a breakaway and got turned inside out on another in a 5-3 loss that leaves them six points out of the final playoff spot.
"We're in a position to win the hockey game and we just give them two goals in the third period - just give them two goals," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club was down 2-1 in the third before the roof fell in.
"At this level you're not going to win if you give up goals like that - easy goals in crucial situations." And they didn't. On a night when the two goalies were the best two players on the ice (for the first 40 minutes, anyway) the Canucks made it 1-0 on a puck that bounced in off defenceman Jan Hejda and 2-0 on another that Henrik Sedin tipped in.
That's what happens when you ease into a game like it's a warm bath. "I didn't like the way we started," said MacTavish "It was a game we needed to show more desperation in, and why we didn't is a mystery."
Down 2-1 after 40, but still very much alive, the Oilers fell behind 3-1 when Jason Smith whiffed on a puck just inside the Vancouver blueline. With no winger in sight to cover, Marc Chouinard had a 150-foot breakaway and beat Dwayne Roloson.
Toby Petersen made it 3-2 late in the third, but Markus Naslund turned Marc-Andre Bergeron inside-out on the eventual winner. Joffrey Lupul scored at 19:21, but Jan Bulis iced it with an empty netter at 19:42.
"We're not making it easy on ourselves," said winger Raffi Torres. "It's frustrating; we have a big game and we have a flat start. It's disappointing. I don't know what it is. We have to be ready for big games like this."
While the Canucks have earned points in 15 of their last 16 games, the Oilers haven't won three in a row since the start of December.
"It pretty much characterizes what's plagued us for the whole year," said MacTavish. "We just don't have consistency. We start feeling good about our game and then you get these flagrant errors."
The news gets even worse: Jarret Stoll, who missed the Jan. 20 game with Calgary because of a mild concussion, suffered a relapse in yesterday's hard-hitting affair. He'll be sent home instead of making the trip to Denver.
Patrick Thoresen also left the gamein the third period after blocking a shot.