'Respect the streak'

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Winning streaks are deliciously delightful, mystical magical things that put a swagger in steps and plant great grins on faces.

They make it so much easier to go to the rink every day that everybody shows up even if you give them a day off.

Players get silly with superstitions during winning streaks, driving the same route to the rink every day, wearing the same clothes ... and that's just the sane stuff.

It's like Crash Davis explained to Nuke LaLoosh, the pitcher who was contemplating no longer breathing out of his eyelids, taking off the garter belt under his uniform and giving up celibacy during a winning streak in the movie Bull Durham.

"You can't. You have to respect the streak."

Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes watched one end last night. After five consecutive wins which put them within shouting distance of a playoff position, it all came crashing down with a 5-2 loss to a team contemplating going on their first real winning streak of the season.

With the win, the Edmonton Oilers - in a five-game homestand crucial to their season - made it three wins in a row for the third time this season. They've yet to make it four in a row.

They really haven't accomplished anything here until they take it past three. But they've at least put themselves in position to get on a real winning streak.

"A winning streak is one of the coolest things about sport," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.

"It builds momentum. It creates an amazing atmosphere and it almost fuels itself with everybody being so positive and with such a high energy level."

If there has ever been a spot on the schedule to put one together, this is it for the Oilers, who finish the five-game homestand with a Sunday game against Calgary Flames and a Tuesday date with the Los Angeles Kings before taking a five-game tour of the so-called South Least Division prior to the all-star break.

"Confidence is the single most important thing in the game," said coach Craig MacTavish of the team which suddenly is a win away from reaching the dizzying heights of .500.

"You can see we're playing with a lot of confidence on offence," he said of the team which scored on its first two shots on goal.

"A lot of good things are happening. There's more confidence in our dressing room right now than at any stretch of the season so far."

So far this year, New Jersey and Detroit have both put together nine-game winning streaks. With another win last night, Ty Conklin and the Pittsburgh Penguins made it eight in a row to equal the Ottawa Senators' longest streak of the season.

Ottawa has also had a six-game winning streak as has Calgary and Dallas.

In hockey, to have a winning streak you need a hot goalie. Gretzky had one in Ilya Bryzgalov until the Oilers got to him early and often last night.

In terms of a five-game homestand, which is crucial to their season, MacTavish's timing in making Mathieu Garon No. 1 at the start of the streak was brilliant.

Garon has stopped 95 shots while giving up only four goals in the three games. He also stopped all three in a shootout, not to mention denying Shane Doan on a penalty shot last night.

The Oilers scored on their first two shots, but it was a massive save on Mike York that was the turning point of the tilt.

When you're able to look back at the guy in goal and know he's going to stop the pucks, you can play the game with gusto.

No matter how much players are paid, you have to have fun playing the games. And you can see in the last three tilts - as the Oilers have finally managed to get their home record to 11-11-1 - they're having fun.

"It's a nice change," said MacTavish.

"Put it this way. It's been a grind most of this season to this point. When we've had two days between games, it seemed we were always coming off disappointing losses. Now we're getting two days off coming off wins. It makes the energy level so much higher getting to the next game."

Three in a row isn't a streak worth talking about. But four? Or more? Then we're talkin.'


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