SUN Hockey Pool

It's Pred-ictable for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- It's not easy playing out the string, especially when it's been wrapped around your neck in a noose for 20 games.

Ask Barry Trotz. Nashville's head coach, having endured his share of meaningless stretch drives during the Predators' formative years, knows exactly what the Edmonton Oilers are going through on their season-ending funeral march.

"It's tough to do, especially running into teams that need games, that have loaded up," said Trotz as his Preds beat the Oilers 4-3.

"A few years ago, we stunk for the last 15 games, we really did,"he said. "And I saw the same thing with Andy Murray's team in LA, his last year there.

REALLY BATTLING

"They were really battling, they had some injuries, they were right there, then they fell out and it went south for the last 12 or 15 games.

"That can happen because it's so emotionally draining. But you have to get over the hump where you say (missing the playoffs)doesn't matter, we're playing for next year, let's just play well. It becomes a team pride thing."

That seemed to be the case last night. The Oilers, with nothing to play for anymore, played like it mattered anyway, putting a major scare into the first place Predators. They scored first, and had a 3-2 lead in the third period, before, losing.

"We faced, in my mind, the best team in the league, and we matched up pretty well against them," said Petr Sykora, who scored his 22nd of the season. "But we came up a little short."

Not quite as short as they came up in their 4-0 loss to the same Preds three days earlier in Edmonton.

"Tough loss," said Ales Hemsky, who scored his 11th. "We could have won this game. We played pretty good. Better effort than before, that's for sure."

Trotz knew his team was in for a fight, despite being 34 points ahead of Edmonton in the standings.

"They're a proud organization, they battled really hard," he said.

"To me, that's a sign of character. I know a few of those guys from the World Championships, Shawn Horcoff and Jason Smith, and they're going to play hard till the end."

Smith had two fights and Hemsky played like he didn't know it didn't matter. Rookie defenceman Tom Gilbert logged 28:50 of ice time and had two assists on a night when there weren't many passengers.

"That was tough,"said Preds winger J.P. Dumont, who had a goal and two assists. "Give them credit; they're on the road for their last six games, they're out of the playoffs, and they played really well tonight."

But after Sykora and Toby Petersen made it 3-2 Edmonton in the third, Jason Arnott and Dumont scored at 6:21 and 8:40 to steal the game back.

"It's disappointing on a night where we finally get a little bit of offence," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose team had been held to one or fewer goals in 11 of its previous 14 games. "We know how difficult the wins have been for us. To put ourselves in this position and come away empty on a night where you get three goals is disappointing."

SET THE TONE

Smith set the tone early, scrapping with Ramzi Abid in the first and Darcy Hordichuk in the second.

"He really stood up for Laddy when he got hit there,"said Sykora. "It really was great timing, it really got us going. This is what captains do."

"You couldn't ask for more commitment and better leadership from Jason," added MacTavish. "It means a lot."


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