SUN Hockey Pool

Pinned down

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The game had hand-grenade written all over it. A disaster waiting to happen.

Even though the Chicago Blackhawks have been playing some rock solid hockey lately, having dismissed Calgary and Vancouver before rolling into Edmonton last night, they were still a 13th-place also-ran on the fifth game of a road trip.

CAN'T LOSE

And you CAN'T lose to 13th-place also-rans on the fifth game of a road trip.

Had they fumbled this one, and were left standing in the middle of a crater with a pin in their hand this morning, it would have been catastrophic - In their heads, in the standings, in the streets of a panicked city.

So they didn't.

Calm and cool in a game that was too close for comfort, the Oilers sidestepped the potential carnage with a workmanlike 2-1 decision that came down to the final shift of the third period.

"We didn't have the normal tension a situation like that would create at times," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose side climbed to within six points of eighth place with the win.

"It's hard to explain why we didn't. We didn't play very tight."

The Oilers never make it easy on themselves, and it was no different last night.

A 1-0 lead after 40 minutes was closer than the sellout crowd expected, or the Oilers liked, and even after Shawn Horcoff's power play goal finally gave Edmonton some breathing room at 3:04 of the third period, Martin Havlat scored with the Hawks net empty in the final minute to turn up the stress again.

But the hosts didn't buckle.

"We're better than what we were a few years ago, when we used to struggle a bit in tight games," said captain Jason Smith.

"The experience we got from last year's team is huge, and that's good because these are the kinds of games we're going to see down the stretch and in the playoffs."

Being cool in the clutch is going to serve the Oilers well down the stretch because with things so tight everywhere, every game is going to have a playoff feel.

"We sort of talked about trying to have fun again," said Dwayne Roloson, who came one screened point shot away from a shutout.

"We'd been gripping it and doing a lot of uncharacteristic things. We said try and have fun ... and not worry about making mistakes."

Eight points behind Minnesota and Vancouver for the final playoff spot when the night began, the Oilers had a lot more to play for than did the Blackhawks.

CREDIT OR KNOCK?

But there wasn't much difference between the two clubs - whether that's a credit to the Hawks or a knock on the Oilers remains to be seen.

"(Chicago) has a lot of guys who can skate and they've been playing pretty well, so we knew what we were up against," said Marty Reasoner.

"They've had some injuries and bad breaks and now they're starting to turn it around. Tight games like these are a test of how you handle the pressure."They handled it pretty well last night.

"It's not a place for the feint of heart in the NHL," said MacTavish.

"The pressure is going to be there to perform. You have to perform under that type of pressure... and we did a good job."


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