SUN Hockey Pool

Hawks handled

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

There wasn't much difference between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks last night - whether that's a credit to the Hawks or a knock on the Oilers remains to be seen.

... ALL IT COULD HANDLE

But the Oilers, a team that fancies itself one trade away from being a legitimate playoff threat, got all it could handle and then some from a 13th-place also-ran playing the fifth game of a seven game road trip.

But style points don't count in the standings, so nobody in Edmonton's room was apologizing for a non-descript 2-1 decision that went down to the final shift at Rexall Place.

"We played a smart game, did what we had to," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"At this stage we're not going to turn our nose up at the two points.

"Hopefully we can build off this going into the game against Atlanta (here on Sunday)."

The Oilers never make it easy on themselves, and it was no different last night. The Hawks have been playing well, having beaten Calgary and Vancouver on this trip, but 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.

Maybe the Oilers were saving it for the playoffs, who knows.

"A little unfortunate at the end, giving up a shutout with 30 seconds to go," said MacTavish.

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.

Fifteen points out of the race, Chicago is pretty much playing out the string, although they'll never admit it until it's a mathematical certainty.

"Every game for us is a playoff game, same thing for Edmonton," said Hawks coach Denis Savard, whose club lost 10-in-a-row before getting its act together six games ago.

"We went through a storm a couple of weeks ago, but if we keep playing the way we have we'll be OK.

"Overall, we're a better team right now than we were at the start of the year and I think that's important."

Marc Pouliot, Ryan Smyth, Petr Nedved and Marc-Andre Bergeron all had Grade A scoring chances in the first period, but the Oilers only came away with a 1-0 lead.

Raffi Torres, whose loose lips sank the Oilers ship last game, let his stick do the talking this time.

MADE UP FOR IT

Fingered twice for undisciplined penalties that cost Edmonton two power play goals in Edmonton's 5-2 loss to Vancouver, Torres made up for it by opening the scoring with a slap shot off the wing 4:29 into the first period.

There was no scoring in the second period, and without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say it was 20 minutes of our lives that we'd all like back.

In the third, the Oilers were poised and calm in nursing their nail-biting lead to the finish line.

"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.

"That's good because these are the kinds of games we're going to see down the stretch and in the playoffs."


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