'We can salvage this'

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

BOSTON -- Craig MacTavish kept the dressing room door locked for a long time here last night.

The paint wasn't peeling off the walls but the door was closed for almost 15 minutes.

His message?

"Nobody's business," said the coach after it was finally opened.

It was Game 1 of the best-of-seven 'Make Or Break The Season' road trip and the Oilers were a bust in Boston.

MacTavish needed the extra time in the post-game dressing room to tear them down then work on building up some belief.

His Edmonton Oilers arrived here off back-to-back wins at home, three wins in their last four and five wins in their last seven. Which was all well and good.

But to lose this one was a devastating blow.

ROUGH START

On a trip with stops in Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Columbus, Detroit and Minnesota, this looked like the most winnable game of the works. And they lost 3-0.

That "nobody's business" quote turned out to be this:

"We can salvage this. If we do, it will be very satisfying. We have to get out of this. This is very salvageable.

"It would be a good accomplishment for everybody to pull out of the situation we're in right now. It's very doable."

The thing MacTavish liked least about what he watched was that the Oilers looked a lot like the teams he coached before the lockout which missed the playoffs, not like the one which scrambled into eighth place last year and went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

"We're back to making goaltenders look really good. Tim Thomas made 32 saves and I can't remember a difficult one.

"We were the perfect opponent again. We had a slow start, then gave a ton of effort to get back in the game, entertained everyone and walked out with a loss.

"We've got to be boring. We have to play a defensive-minded game."

MacTavish didn't mention the word trap. But it was obvious the way he started the game, what he really wanted was a 1-0 lead to work with.

Big line. Second line.

Big line. Third line.

Big line. Fourth line.

It was an interesting rotation to start a hockey game.

Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff took three shifts and played on a power play before the other lines got out there again.

"He was trying to get us away from Zdeno Chara back there," said Smyth of the unusual rotation.

But MacTavish admitted there was more to it than that. Getting the first goal of the game goes a long way to winning on the road.

"We need production from that line. There's no point in saving anybody now," said the coach of desperation time.

The Oilers are 21-11-3 when scoring first and 7-14-1 when it's worked the other way around. Don't score early and then start a parade to the penalty box is going to get you every time.

"The last game we lost, to Vancouver, we gave up two 5-on-3s," said MacTavish who watched the Bruins take the 1-0 lead on 5-on-3 and 2-0 lead on another power play.

"Look at the games we've lost of late. We've had seven, eight or nine penalties a game in all of them," said Horcoff.

"That's just too many."

GOTTA BELIEVE

Horcoff said they have to become the think-we-can, think-we-can, think-we-can team they've been in the past.

"We can still do this. It's not over by any means. We can't let this game get us down. If we were sitting fifth or sixth, we'd shake this one off."

But they're not. They're ninth. And the top team in the entire league, the Sabres, are up next in Buffalo.

Smyth can see how this will play if they don't play by far their best hockey of the season the rest of the way off this bust of a beginning to their make-or-break road trip.

"To go from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to not making the playoffs ..."

At least they're not in denial about what we could be watching if they don't win more than they lose on this trip.


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