Can't Duck motivation

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

A playoff series.

A defenceman's defection.

An offer sheet.

Juvenile bleatings from a GM scorned, and some equally diplomatic rebuttals from the team that plucked his winger.

It's all adding up to some rather compelling friction between the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks.

In an age when so many rivalries seem to be born of geographical obligation rather than genuine dislike, it's nice to see a couple of organizations with an honest hate on for each other.

It usually makes for some pretty good hockey.

"When you throw an Edmonton Oilers jersey on it's a pretty proud thing," said rookie Sam Gagner, who, like all of his teammates, didn't think very much of Ducks GM Brian Burke trying to belittle the franchise.

"You want to fight for the organization. When you see stuff like that happen it definitely lights a fire in your belly. We come in with a lot to prove in these games.

"We want to show that we're no push-overs."

Between the 2006 Western Conference final, Chris Pronger's messy exit, the $21 million Group 2 offer sheet that coaxed Dustin Penner out of Anaheim and Burke's continuous assault on all things Edmonton -- ridiculing GM Kevin Lowe and predicting an Oilers face-plant at every turn -- there's been a lot of nasty history between these two clubs in a short time.

And wasn't it Sammy Pahlsson's hit from behind that derailed Jarret Stoll's career?

No wonder head coach Craig MacTavish sees the hair on Edmonton's neck standing straight up when the puck drops against Anaheim.

"There's enough locker-room motivation,"he said. "Not that we need any auxiliary motivation right now, other than the situation we're in. It's a pride thing."

Nobody likes to see another GM lift his leg on their logo, so it's no surprise the Oilers always have a little extra spring in their skates when they see Anaheim.

"You try to ignore it, but you still catch wind of all the behind the scenes stuff going on and how big these games are," said defenceman Tom Gilbert. "They were important games for our team and in each one we were unbelievably ready."

It showed.

So far the Oilers are 3-0 against the Ducks, posting a 3-2 shootout win in October followed by a pair of romps (5-1 and 4-0 in a home-and-home series a month ago). They'll go for the sweep in the fourth and final meeting of the season tonight at Rexall Place.

"We seem to play well against them," said Gagner. "We come out with a lot of passion. Obviously there's a lot at stake. We have to get the same emotion and enthusiasm going into this game."

One might be tempted to suggest Anaheim is the wakeup call the struggling Oilers need right now, but, then again, is any team that's won three in a row, having just added Scott Niedermayer and Doug Weight, what any ailing team really needs?

"They'll be a contender again this year," said Gilbert.

"They're good players, hard working, they can hit. They just keep coming. The addition of Niedermayer, one of the best defencemen in the league, and Weight, isn't going to make them any worse."

While the Ducks can't win the season series, they'd like nothing better than to push the 13th place Oilers, losers of three straight, a little closer to the abyss.

There's going to be a lot of sizzle on this Christmas Duck, which is good for the fans. Whether an Anaheim visit is good for the Oilers remains to be seen.

"I'll reserve judgment," chuckled MacTavish, well aware that this will be a different Ducks team than the one they handled so easily the last two games.

"They're playing better now than they were at any point in the season when we played them previously. And I'll make the same argument for us, that we're playing better. It should be a good game."


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