SUN Hockey Pool

A most wanted win for Oil

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

ATLANTA -- With Edmonton coming off a humiliating 7-2 loss in Carolina, and Atlanta coming off an even more humiliating 10-1 loss in Buffalo, it was anyone's game to lose.

You had to wonder if it would come down to who wanted it least.

It wasn't the Oilers, who rose to the challenge of a must-win road game against an angry, embarrassed opponent yesterday with a convincing 4-2 decision.

"Nobody was feeling good about what happened in Carolina," said Oilers defenceman and former Thrashers captain Steve Staios, who had two assists in the victory. "It's a good sign when a team is able to bounce back like we did."

With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread and zero wins to show for their first two games in this five game trip, the point-starved Oilers needed this one like Nicole Richie needs a sandwich.

Win and they keep their heads an inch above water. Lose and the dark cloud in their dressing room beats them to Tampa Bay.

Those aren't easy terms under which to play, but they responded with a pretty complete effort.

"Every game is like a playoff game for us right now," said Sam Gagner. "We're fighting for our lives. And tonight was a great example of how we can play when we're desperate. Everybody wanted to get back on track after last game and everybody stepped up and played one of their best games."

The Oilers got goals from Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert and Robert Nilsson. Ales Hemsky had two sensational assists and Dwayne Roloson picked up where he left off during the shootout in Washington. He stopped 29 of 31 shots in the win, holding the fort in a first period where the Oilers were outshot 12-5.

"Tonight we came out and played a full team game to get the win," said Roloson. "This was huge for us."

No question. The Oilers were touring the deep south in more ways than one. It's a long way to eighth from 14th, so they didn't need to make it any harder than it already is.

"We put the pressure on ourselves to go out and play well," said Roloson. "We still think we're going to be in the playoffs."

With a point from the shootout loss in Washington, the Oilers have three of a possible six on the trip, with two games to go.

"We still have two games left on this trip and if we win them both that's seven of 10 points," said Staios. "We can still turn this into a pretty good trip."

After a scoreless and somewhat tentative first, the Oilers led 2-1 after 40 minutes on a pair of the nicer goals they've scored this year - Penner on a back door feed from Hemsky and Gagner deking Kari Lehtonen out of his skin just 1:06 after Slava Kozlov tied it up for Atlanta.

Gilbert's third period goal, a wrist shot in the top corner after another great pass from Hemsky, gave Edmonton a little breathing room and Nilsson put a goal scorer's goal in the top corner at 13:54 to put it out of reach.

"They're a highly skilled unit," head coach Craig MacTavish said of his kid line, which counted for two of Edmonton's four goals. "We know we're going to get somethnig out of the Hemsky, Horcoff Penner line, so when that line steps up and gets a couple of goals it's the difference between scoring two and four, which was the difference in the game."

"It's a great feeling," said Gagner. "Just helping the team win and get a little momentum."

Nilsson is getting hot again. He has four points in his last two games. He had a nine-game point streak earlier in the season.

"It was a lot of fun today," grinned the 23-year-old. "We just need to play like this all the time. We played a solid game, all four lines."


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