SUN Hockey Pool

Miracle a mirage

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

OTTAWA -- It was at the point where the Edmonton Oilers needed a miracle.

And for a few minutes, there actually was one.

"That's as good a feeling as I've had on the bench all year," said coach Craig MacTavish.

Less than 20 seconds remained when Tom Gilbert, playing in the third NHL game of his career, scored to tie the game 3-3 and send it to overtime and a shootout.

On the verge of being put on an undeniable death watch, the Edmonton Oilers were outshot 11-1 at one point of the first period and were down 2-0 to start the third period.

But just when you least expected it ...

"At least we're coming out of here with a little bit of life,'' said MacTavish.

Not much.

Edmonton ended up losing a shootout here 4-3 with former Oiler Mike Comrie, after being booed every time he touched the puck by a remarkable number of Edmonton fans in the building for the last game between East and West Canadian teams for the next 20-some months, scoring the shootout winner.

SMILE FADES FAST

That wiped the smile off MacTavish's face.

"Any comment on Comrie?'' I asked.

"Uh, no,'' he said.

It would get worse.

Minnesota beat Dallas in a shootout to make it a nine point difference between the Wild and the Oilers in the standings by the time the time the team returned to their hotel rooms after Game 4 of the seven-game 'Make Or Break The Season' road trip - which remains a bust.

It was laughable to compare the hockey club MacTavish put on the ice last night to the one which was on the ice for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last year.

Half of it was made up of first and second year pros.

These nine Oilers (with their career NHL game totals in brackets) were in the lineup: Tom Gilbert (2), Mathieu Roy (8), Jean-Francois Jacques (26), Jan Hejda (31), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (31), Patrick Thoresen (46) Ladislav Smid (55), Brad Winchester (60) and Toby Petersen (133).

Peterson said he picked up on the fact that there would be eight guys with less NHL experience than himself.

"Getting on the bus on the way over here, I'm looking around and saying to myself 'This is a pretty young lineup tonight.' ''

Seven of the nine spent time in the minors this year. Add Zack Stortini, who was in the press box with Matt Greene and Petr Nedved for this one, and that's eight players who have been minor leagues this season.

With MacTavish also going with backup Jussi Markkanen in goal you could be forgiven for figuring - in the wake of the Marc-Andre Bergeron trade - maybe the Oilers were showcasing Markkanen for a trade deadline deal. You could also come to the conclusion they'd decided they might as well play their prospects.

Gilbert couldn't believe he was on the ice in the final minute of a 3-2 hockey game with a season hanging basically in the balance in his third NHL game.

"I was definitely surprised to be in there.

"I just told myself to be patient and they'll find me.

"When Ales Hemsky has the puck there's a pretty good chance of that happening.

"Obviously it's nice to be back up in the NHL and it's a real thrill to get my first goal.''

KIDS GET A CHANCE

Gilbert and Roy were on the ice together in the four-on-four overtime.

These guys should be on training wheels. But they were out there together with a season on the line. For a minute there it looked like something storybook was brewing.

Markkanen played well.

"I just wanted to shake things up and make a change,'' said MacTavish.

Greene, himself a veteran of 85 NHL games, was demoted to spectator to shake him up a little bit.

"He's been up and down and I just wanted him to sit upstairs and watch a game."

For a few minutes there, MacTavish was a genius. But just for a few minutes.

This just isn't a season of happy endings.


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