Relax, it's over

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

When the Oilers said they were tired of taking their fight for a playoff spot to the final weekend of the season every year and vowed that this spring would be different, this isn't quite what their fans had in mind.

But the Oilers have been true to their word and, with nearly a quarter of the season to go, have taken control of their own destiny. Unfortunately, they've managed to steer that destiny right into the side of a mountain, but at least there won't be any sleepless stretch-drive nights in April.

This concludes the silver lining portion of the year-long dark cloud we once mistook for a Stanley Cup final hangover.

Now back to the string, all 17 games of it, that the Edmonton Also-Rans begin playing out this evening against Calgary.

PLAY HARD

"You have to focus on playing hard every night, not giving up," said Raffi Torres, when asked about having nothing to play for anymore.

"We have to show fans that we're not going to lie down. It doesn't look good in the standings, but if we play hard the rest of the way maybe we can gain some respect that way.

"The longer it goes, the more you'll find out what kind of guys have character, which guys are going to lie down and which guys are going to fight through it and play hard no matter what the situation is."

That's the spirit. Remember, boys, there's no "I" in quit.

"Everybody in this room plays the game for pride, nobody's going to give up," said defenceman Matt Greene.

"You don't get to this level by quitting when things are bad. Everybody's been on losing teams before in their lives. You have to work hard and get yourself better. You can't let selfishness or bad habits creep into your game.

"I'm going to do everything I can to stay a team player because that's when I play my best hockey, when the team is going good."

Dead in the water, with nothing to play for, and four weeks left on the schedule? A lot of teams in this situation start to look like the Airborne on game nights, nothing but guys pulling chutes.

Head coach Craig MacTavish hopes his team isn't one of them.

"It's not a pleasant situation right now, obviously," he said.

"But as a player you have to look at it and say, 'what do I want to accomplish?' When we have our meetings at the end of the year, what do you want the organization to feel about you as a player and a person."

MUCH TO LEARN

While the cynics will argue that the time for judging this team's character has come and gone and the Oilers failed miserably (and they'd be right), there's still plenty you can learn about a man when things have fallen apart around him.

"What's the definition of a loser?" said MacTavish. "It's a guy who will make a bad situation worse. We don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of losers.

"Losers love an ally, somebody in a similar situation they can commiserate with. It somehow takes the burden of the responsibility off them. We don't want that.

"A winner will take responsibility for the situation he's in.

"A winner will make the best of a bad situation, or make a bad situation better.

"Yeah, we'll be looking to see who the winners are, for sure. Hopefully we're not dealing with the loser-type mentality."

Petr Sykora is certain they're not.

"We have character, we come to the rink and play hard every day, but at times in games we have to be smarter, that's all.

"We just make mistakes out there. It's not character, it's about putting it together and not giving up easy goals."

Or giving up, period.


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